New city police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark was given the first of two community introductions last night in a meeting with about 200 Baltimore community leaders at City College.
Clark, 46, told them he had been a New York "cop" for 22 years, and that his street experience would translate to progress in reducing Baltimore's drug trade and violent crime.
He also gave them his first impressions of the Baltimore police force. "They're very good cops, with guts and dedication," he said. "They're young, but young is good. When you get older, you can't run as fast."
Mayor Martin O'Malley, who named Clark to succeed Edward T. Norris last month, made a brief appearance and told the audience, "We have to make progress on the homicide rate. None of us are satisfied with [more than] 250 homicides a year."
O'Malley said Clark's record of reducing drug transactions by driving them indoors in New York should transfer to Baltimore's open-air drug markets.
The new commissioner said he was there mainly to listen to concerns, and took a series of questions - most focusing on neighborhood quality-of-life issues stemming from crime.
Clark said he would place more reliance on the nine city police districts and their connection with local neighborhoods. "We are like nine businesses, and you are the customers," Clark said.
The new police commissioner - who has not been confirmed by the City Council - asked all nine district commanders to stand up to be recognized as those on the front lines of community law enforcement.
The mayor said he was pleased with the plain speaking of the meeting. "He sees the community as a tactical asset and wants to get neighborhoods involved," O'Malley said of Clark.
Clark said he needed "a little time" to get his bearings in a city new to him but understood that some in the room were restless for change.
"You're tired of being patient," he said.
Stuart Brooks, a Guilford resident who organized a security patrol, said after the meeting that he was sorry the mayor chose someone from outside the city. "We'll see what happens."