The fall of Fast Eddie

March 10, 2004

WHEN PEOPLE look back at the years a tough, smart, charming New Yorker ran the Baltimore City Police Department, they won't remember his aggressive crime-fighting strategy or straight-talking style, or the decline in the city's staggering homicide rate. Not now. Edward T. Norris will be recalled for his taste in wine, steakhouses and women -- and the police orphans fund he skimmed to pay for them.

The former city police commissioner has no one to blame but himself. His guilty pleas Monday on federal corruption and tax charges prove it.

From the moment Mr. Norris began using an off-the-books police expense account to finance expensive dinners with friends and extramarital liaisons at hotels here and in Manhattan, he compromised his office, betrayed the public's trust and earned his nickname, Fast Eddie.

Not only did Mr. Norris misuse funds that previous police chiefs spent to augment department activities, he tapped into the agency's overburdened overtime budget to pay his driver to accompany him on these trips.

Yet he displayed an apparent disregard of the charges against him and his breach of responsibility. Last summer, he voiced concern that his legacy as police commissioner "shouldn't be that I bought steaks in New York."

This whole affair was never, as Mr. Norris claimed, an accounting mix-up. He lied to cover his tracks and then conveniently forgot with whom he dined when articles in The Sun in 2002 disclosed his expensive tastes and after-hours business meetings and liaisons.

Mr. Norris, 43, put himself on the fast track and tripped up. He wanted too much too fast.

The son of a New York police officer, Mr. Norris distinguished himself among the ranks of New York's finest and rose to the rank of deputy police commissioner. An offer to work in Baltimore gave him the chance to run his own department. A take-charge guy, he blazed a trail here, earning friends and some enemies, but delivering on Mayor Martin O'Malley's election-year promise to reduce crime and give Baltimoreans a reason to believe in the city.

But what Mr. Norris obviously failed to realize was this: His diligence and good work at police headquarters never entitled him to anything more than his six-figure salary, the loyalty of his department and the respect of the citizens of Baltimore. That should have been reward enough for the city's top cop.

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