Ehrlich prepares for loss of Norris

Potential replacements screened amid probe of police superintendent

November 30, 2003|By Del Quentin Wilber and Laura Barnhardt | Del Quentin Wilber and Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s staff is searching for a potential replacement for Maryland State Police Superintendent Edward T. Norris, who is under an intensifying federal investigation of his activities as Baltimore police commissioner.

Ehrlich administration officials declined to comment publicly on the search, saying they do not talk about personnel matters. However, sources familiar with the replacement search said that top state officials, with the help of a private investigator, launched background checks of at least six candidates for the job in recent weeks.

Ehrlich and his top aides are eager to have someone ready to replace Norris, said one source, if the superintendent should be indicted as a result of the federal investigation. Prosecutors are examining Norris' use of an off-the-books Baltimore police expense account and how his closest aides earned tens of thousands of dollars in overtime.

According to sources, two of the candidates were considered for the post last year when Ehrlich took office. They are Thomas E. Hutchins, an ex-trooper and former member of the House of Delegates who is secretary of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs, and Douglas DeLeaver, chief of the Maryland Transit Administration Police.

Four others inside the agency are also under consideration, according to the sources: Lt. Col. Mark S. Chaney, head of the department's Operations Bureau; Capt. Martin E. Knight, commander of the Centreville barracks; Capt. William Pallozzi, head of the agency's executive protection details; and Robert Biemiller, Norris' chief of staff and a former city police commander.

DeLeaver and Biemiller said they did not know about the search. Chaney declined to comment. The others could not be reached.

Support claimed

Norris declined to comment yesterday through his spokesman.

"The governor has said many times he has full confidence in the superintendent," said the spokesman, Maj. Greg Shipley. "We believe that confidence continues."

Shipley's views were echoed yesterday by Jervis S. Finney, Ehrlich's counsel. Finney declined to comment on the search, saying the administration does not discuss personnel matters.

"The governor supports the superintendent in his efforts for the state because Colonel Norris has done a fine job for the state," Finney said.

Norris said in July that he would not step down - even if he is indicted - and did nothing wrong as Baltimore police commissioner.

"Unless the governor asks me to leave, I'm not going," Norris told The Sun. "I haven't done anything illegal. ... I'll go to trial if it comes to that."

The search could be a blow to Norris' ability to lead the state police and a sign that Ehrlich is worried about the potential outcome of the federal investigation, according to union officials and a former police executive.

"It would appear the governor is very serious about replacing him," said Cornelius J. Behan, formerly Baltimore County's police chief, who is not involved in the search process. "When leadership is in doubt, an organization has difficulties. Until it is settled one way or another, whether Norris stays on ... or the other ones are decided upon, the department will be in turmoil."

Union opposition

Some union leaders, who have butted heads with Norris for the past year, have complained about low morale and constant reshuffling of top commanders.

One Fraternal Order of Police lodge passed a vote of no confidence in Norris in September. A union president who surveyed troopers on whether they supported Norris was transferred to another barracks, then filed a lawsuit last month, alleging the move was an act of retaliation.

"The sooner he can be replaced, the better it will be for everybody," said Dan Poist, executive director of the State Law Enforcement Officers Labor Alliance, an umbrella union organization that represents troopers. "He hasn't proven to be a very effective leader."

Poist said union officials viewed Hutchins and DeLeaver as the front-runners for the top job, saying they had the experience and prestige to lead the agency.

Anti-violence policies

Norris oversaw steep decreases in crime in Baltimore from 2000 through 2002. He pushed the agency's top commanders to be more accountable for reducing crime, particularly homicide and other violence, in their districts.

He had pledged not to leave Baltimore unless Mayor Martin O'Malley asked him to step down but abruptly resigned in December to take over the state police.

As soon as he joined the state police, Norris created a homeland security bureau, putting an emphasis on preventing terrorism.

Norris also instituted a rigorous crime-tracking system, known as ComStat, which he brought to Baltimore and the state police after working with it in New York City as a high-ranking commander.

Federal grand jury

Federal prosecutors have declined to comment on their investigation of Norris.

They launched the grand jury probe early this year, subpoenaing records related to Norris' use of the little-known expense fund.

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