Norris announces state police will get substantial overhaul

March 04, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Maryland State Police Superintendent Edward T. Norris announced yesterday a major overhaul of the agency that will bring new commanders to more than half of the police barracks and create a homeland defense unit.

Since he was named as Maryland's top police officer by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Norris has emphasized how important it is for state police to take the lead in homeland defense. As part of that goal, he said that he wanted to reassign troopers to patrol duties.

The reorganization -- much of which is scheduled to take effect March 19 -- will move more than 30 troopers to barracks around the state and another 40 officers and supervisors to the new homeland defense bureau, state police officials said.

"I think people in Maryland will see a greater state police presence on the roadways," Norris said yesterday. "There are some things they won't see, like our homeland security missions." But those missions are critically important, he said.

State police have set up a 24-hour hot line to receive tips on crimes and terrorism (1-800-492-TIPS), assigned troopers to terrorism task forces and agencies, and begun sending daily intelligence updates to all 23 barracks, said Lt. Col. Stephen T. Moyer, who will head the homeland security bureau.

Before authorities had determined that an explosion at an oil storage depot in Staten Island, N.Y., last month was an accident, troopers were dispatched to check oil facilities in Maryland. "This is a priority," Moyer said.

Cost projections for the homeland security bureau are not complete. Maj. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said the cost should be minimal because existing resources will be used.

Police officials said the reassignment of troopers will help fill a void created when state police had to cancel their recruiting class this year because of state budget cuts. It won't be until this time next year -- at the earliest -- that state police can begin hiring more troopers, said Lt. Col. David W. Czorapinski, who heads the consolidated operations bureau. "Our focus is to try to redirect our personnel back to direct crime fighting."

The last major overhaul of the state police was in 1995 when Col. David B. Mitchell took over as superintendent and combined the drug enforcement and criminal investigations bureaus.

Several former Baltimore City police officials Norris brought with him when he stepped down as the city commissioner have been given high-ranking positions in the state agency.

Two civilians from the Baltimore Police Department -- Daniel O'Connor and John Pignataro -- have been named deputy secretaries, which puts them at a level equivalent to a lieutenant colonel. O'Connor will head the administration bureau and Pignataro is in charge of state police information technology.

But Norris also kept several top state police commanders, including Moyer, who headed the field operations bureau, and Czorapinski.

The restructuring that Norris had outlined when he took command of the state police in January was delayed, in part, because his confirmation by the Maryland Senate was postponed several times last month.

Under Norris' plan, five regional operations bureaus will be consolidated into two. Some of the captains and majors who headed those bureaus will serve as barrack commanders, displacing lieutenants and sergeants, who will be the most adversely affected by the changes, said Lt. Nick Paros, president of the union that represents 1,700 officers and commanders. Paros will take over as commander of the JFK Highway barrack.

"It had some people on edge," said Paros. "A police agency isn't a democracy. Anyone over the rank of captain serves at the pleasure of the superintendent. But these are just reassignments. No one has been demoted or fired."

In all, 13 of the state's 23 barrack commanders will change. "But Colonel Norris made it clear when these announcements were made that they weren't an indictment on anyone's work product," Paros said.

Some troopers had worried that state police wouldn't have input into the personnel changes made by Norris. But Paros and other troopers familiar with the process said senior-level commanders promoted into their jobs under Mitchell were very involved in the reorganization.

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