6 city police commanders under department inquiry

Critics see a distraction from job of fighting crime

January 09, 2004|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Police Department's internal affairs unit is investigating at least six top commanders for a variety of alleged improprieties, according to sources familiar with the inquiries.

The investigations, into matters ranging from serious to relatively minor, have led to questions by union officials and city council members about the department's ability to focus on halting the spike in homicides.

Among those being investigated are three district commanders - critical leaders in the department's battle on street crime - the chief of the administrative division, the head of human resources and the chief of the organized crime division.

Officials and sources familiar with the investigations caution that none of the cases has been resolved and that no formal disciplinary charges have been filed.

The number of investigations involving top officials is unusual because the 49 members of the command staff are not afforded the civil service protection that applies to police officers and can be removed at the discretion of the commissioner without an inquiry.

Commissioner Kevin P. Clark said yesterday that he has ordered the internal affairs unit to investigate any commander alleged to be involved in misconduct - the same standard he applies to officers on the street.

"If there is an allegation that they have done something inappropriate, I'm going to have it looked into," said Clark, who refused to confirm or discuss the six cases. "In the past, the allegations were often dealt with in the commissioner's office. I have insisted that all allegations go through internal affairs."

City council members and police union leaders called the inquiries distracting, especially since some of the accusations seem to be minor. They argued that commanders need to remain focused on halting the spate of homicides. The city has recorded 38 killings in the past 39 days. Last year, Baltimore tallied 271 homicides, the first increase in the symbolic barometer of crime since 1998.

City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. questioned the wisdom of the inquiries.

"It's troubling, distracting and a little frustrating," Harris said. "We don't need internal issues distracting our crime-fighting. We need to be sure our house is in order so we can protect our citizens."

Several commanders and others in the department said yesterday that they would need a scorecard to keep track of the top police officials being investigated by internal affairs.

"I wish they would stop bickering and fighting among themselves and get to the work of crime prevention in the city," said Agent Dan Fickus, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3.

"It's extremely distracting," said Officer Paul Loomis, a union vice president. "The business at hand is not getting done or is on hold."

Clark denied that the investigations were distracting the department from fighting crime. "The life and blood of the agency are the officers who hit the street day in and day out," he said. "They are focused and know what the mission is."

The most serious of the allegations being investigated by the internal affairs unit is that Maj. Stephen Davis, commander of the Northeastern District, tried in November to quash a warrant for the arrest of his pastor's son, according to sources familiar with the case.

Davis has declined to comment.

The other two investigations into district commanders concern matters viewed as relatively minor, according to several top commanders who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Maj. Regis Phelan of the Northern District is being investigated on allegations of insubordination stemming from a verbal exchange with the chief of the department's organized crime division during a meeting in October. He declined to comment yesterday.

Sources who attended the meeting on crime trends, including several top commanders, said they were surprised that the incident involving Phelan and Chief Anthony J. Romano would result in an investigation. The sources described the exchange between Phelan and Romano as relatively mild compared to others that have erupted in the often-tense ComStat sessions.

Internal affairs detectives interviewed several of those who attended the meeting, including the former chief of detectives, Edwin Day, sources said.

Romano is also being investigated by internal affairs for another, undisclosed reason stemming from an anonymous letter received by the commissioner's office, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

"It's absolutely, positively, unequivocally false," said Romano, who refused to divulge the accusation against him. "Any allegations made against me are untrue."

The third district commander, Maj. Michael Andrew, commander of the Eastern District, was notified Wednesday night that he is under investigation for allegedly disclosing confidential material to the news media in recent weeks, according to sources familiar with the case.

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