New commissioner quietly reshaping Police Department

Changes in leadership, rookie training have been criticized by some officers

March 15, 2003|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

In little more than a month on the job, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark has begun to quietly put his imprint on the department in ways that go to the heart of police work and others that appear merely cosmetic.

Since starting on Feb. 3, Clark has hired outsiders to run critical departmental functions and has revamped a training program for rookie officers. Then there has been the issue of wardrobe - he has ordered commanders to wear white shirts instead of blue ones, apparently to make them stand apart from patrol officers.

Those close to Clark say far more substantial initiatives are in the works. Meanwhile, the new commissioner, a veteran of the New York Police Department, has declined to show his hand.

"You'll have to wait and see," Clark said.

Some of his early moves illustrate how Clark's low-key leadership style is likely to differ from that of his charismatic and blunt-speaking predecessor, Edward T. Norris, who abruptly resigned in December to join the Maryland State Police as superintendent.

So far, he is operating much more quietly than Norris, choosing not to broadcast his intentions throughout the department, according to interviews with top police officials. Instead, he often hashes out ideas with his closest aide, Joel Francis, a retired New York police sergeant who is the commissioner's chief of staff.

Francis is not the only New Yorker to join the force under Clark. Two more former New York police officers have been tapped to take over important police functions.

The first will be Edwin J. Day, who starts work Monday, replacing Chief Robert M. Stanton as head of the department's detective division. Stanton retired last month.

As a lieutenant in the New York Police Department, Day oversaw squads of detectives in two of the Bronx's toughest precincts where Clark also worked as a commander.

Clark declined to elaborate on why he selected Day to run the department's detective division, an assignment usually reserved for veteran Baltimore officers who have intimate knowledge of Maryland law and the city's police tactics.

Day said in an interview that that he shares Clark's ideas about police work and would try to shift the agency's focus from statistics to individual cases.

He would also push front-line supervisors to more closely monitor the work of their detectives. Baltimore police have been sharply criticized by judges, prosecutors and legal experts for shoddy investigations that have led to cases being dismissed once they get to trial.

"We want the efforts geared toward the problem, not the numbers," said Day, who often lectured at the New York Police Department's homicide school. "I have no patience for lazy people, especially in law enforcement."

Clark has selected another New Yorker, Anthony Romano, to run the agency's drug units, according to high-ranking police sources. It is unclear when Romano, a retired sergeant who specialized in narcotics work, will start.

Clark declined to talk about Romano, and little could be learned about the former New York policeman through that city's police department.

Concerning Romano's background, Francis, the commissioner's chief of staff, said, "I know nothing. "

That raised eyebrows among police union leaders.

Clark "is hiring Romano and [Francis] doesn't know anything about him?" asked Dan Fickus, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3. "I would hope there would be coordination between the chief of staff and commissioner, especially when it comes to filling key positions within our department."

The wave of New Yorkers isn't a new phenomenon. Norris, who also came from the New York Police Department, filled some important jobs with former colleagues from that city, including his chief of staff, top technology official and commander of internal affairs.

However, many inside the Baltimore Police Department, including veteran commanders, view Clark's choices differently. Romano and Day will be overseeing day-to-day departmental operations. Several commanders said the choices have hurt morale because Baltimore police veterans feel slighted at being passed over, and they wonder how Clark could so quickly determine that no one within the city force could handle the jobs.

Deputy Commissioner John McEntee conceded that many within the department are feeling uncertain about looming changes - a natural reaction when a new leader takes over.

"Certainly, people are anxious about what is going on," McEntee said. "These are new people they don't know and we're trying some new things that we're not familiar with. Let's give it a try. ... We have to have confidence that the police commissioner is selecting the right people for the job."

Clark began his first major revamping of a departmental program last week, when he changed how the agency trains its rookie officers.

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