Season should end for sport of bashing ex-commissioner

February 01, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

AH, THE Baltimore sports scene. We have pro football's Ravens, dem O's, the Maryland Terrapins in football and basketball.

There's the Preakness and lacrosse and jousting, the state sport. And then, there's the newest addition: bashing Ed Norris.

Remember Norris? From April 2000 until this past December he was Baltimore's police commissioner, praised by many for a sharp reduction in the crime rate. Others weren't as kind. Some held -- and no doubt continue to hold -- a grudge against Norris because of his gender and color, two things over which he had no control.

Others railed against him for spending thousands of dollars on meals, gifts and trips from a police discretionary fund. Even today, there are radio talk-show hosts who continue to excoriate Norris for accepting the resignation of Maj. Donald Healy, who wrote a memo ordering that all black males in the vicinity of a recent rape be stopped. From the way the talk-radio guys rant, you'd think there was really something in the Supreme Court's 1968 Terry vs. Ohio ruling -- which allowed police stops for "reasonable suspicion" of a crime being committed -- that specified race as a "reasonable suspicion." I assure them there isn't.

You'd think, with Norris resigning as Baltimore police commissioner to become superintendent of the state police, that critics would be happy. But the Norris-bashing continues, and this time it comes from an unlikely source: Mayor Martin O'Malley, the guy who brought Norris to Baltimore and made him the police commissioner.

Here's O'Malley on Norris, according to news articles by Sun reporters Tom Pelton, Del Quentin Wilber and Jamie Stiehm.

"The last time I spoke to Commissioner Norris was right after ... he left without giving any notice."

"There were a lot of council members who cast tough votes to confirm and then reconfirm Norris, and they understandably feel like we got yahoo'ed by this out-of-towner. Define yahoo'ed as `to be fleeced and taken advantage of.'"

Other city officials dropped subtle hints criticizing what they perceive as Norris' premature departure. Here's 3rd District Councilman Kenneth Harris:

"We just need to make sure we have someone who is committed to the city and won't leave a year later."

A testy lot, these city honchos. At least when it comes to police commissioners sticking around. You'd think, with Baltimore's history, they'd be pleased with top cops who depart early. The mayor, a Montgomery County transplant, may not remember the era of Commissioner Donald Pomerleau, who became ensconced in the office in 1966 and refused to budge for 16 years.

Pomerleau brought to the office megalomania, arrogance and a passion for spying on law-abiding citizens too left-of-center for his tastes. I spent many a night praying that that character would retire. The experience left me with a passion for commissioners who leave within two to five years.

Nowhere in the criticism of Norris' early departure is there mention of one Col. Ronald Daniel, O'Malley's first police chief. Daniel jetted after only 57 days and received not one of the slings and arrows that have been hurled at Norris.

Part of that is because of the double standard Norris has faced since he arrived -- one that, for all we know, he grew tired of and may have contributed to his early departure. Daniel is black and, apparently, judged by different criteria than Norris. When Norris fired two high-ranking black officers, his critics raked him over the coals and the City Council -- punt-on-first-down central -- had him come before the body to explain.

Daniel canned more black command staffers than Norris did, without even a hint of criticism.

One thing Daniel and Norris had in common is this: Both were considered excellent, highly qualified commissioners. Both left the O'Malley administration early. Do you think anybody in city government will have the guts to ask O'Malley, "Mr. Mayor, might the problem be you?"

In contrast to the barbs O'Malley has hurled at him, Norris had this to say about O'Malley: "You've still got a great mayor who cares about the city," Norris said this week. "He's one of the great leaders in the country."

On that, Norris is correct. O'Malley is much too great a leader to engage in the pettiness he has shown since Norris made his decision. It's best the mayor move on and let new Commissioner Kevin Clark be, according to Norris, "a great crime fighter and the right guy for the job."

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