Hamm highly critical of Ehrlich ad

Blacks arrested unlawfully in city, commercial says

September 29, 2006|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore's top cop and the Police Department's union president denounced yesterday a political ad from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. that says city officers make thousands of unlawful arrests of black residents.

"It's absolutely false," Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm said. "The men and women of this department risk their lives every single day for the betterment of this city ... and I'm simply not going to let them be put into some kind of political quagmire."

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 President Paul M. Blair Jr. said he was equally disgusted by the radio ad that began airing Wednesday on black radio stations in the Baltimore and Washington markets and features prominent attorney William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr.

"We believe we're political punching bags," Blair said.

Ehrlich campaign spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said the ad was not aimed at police officers but at O'Malley's leadership.

"What the ad is suggesting is that the Baltimore City Police Department can do better under better city leadership," DeLeaver said.

Several political observers believe the ad is aimed at persuading black voters in Prince George's County and Baltimore not to vote for O'Malley. But the backlash could erode Ehrlich's support from the city union, which endorsed him in 2002.

Blair said that the state Fraternal Order of Police is expected to endorse Ehrlich but that his union likely will stay out of the race.

"My members are tired of being pawns," he said.

The 60-second ad is the first of what is expected to be a series of Ehrlich campaign attacks on O'Malley's record of crime-fighting. The governor will probably focus on a department hampered by commissioner turnover and accusations of misconduct, despite crime reductions. The crime ad follows weeks of Ehrlich attacks on O'Malley's role in Baltimore's public school system.

In an e-mail to supporters yesterday, O'Malley's campaign again said Ehrlich is "lying because he's losing."

"Thankfully, poll after poll has shown, Marylanders have rejected Ehrlich's tactics of division and distraction," the e-mail said.

A Sun poll shows that O'Malley holds a 50 percent to 44 percent lead over Ehrlich with less than six weeks before the Nov. 7 election. The mid-September survey of 815 likely voters has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Political observers agree that Ehrlich's campaign is getting increasingly more negative because it is trailing in polls.

In the ad, Murphy -- an African-American and Ehrlich ally -- says O'Malley "sanctions and directs the arrests of thousands of Baltimore City people -- predominantly black -- without ever charging them with a crime." He says morale is down because of commissioner turnover.

Murphy is a lawyer with 36 years of experience, including three years as a city Circuit Court judge, who ran for mayor as a Democrat in 1983. Several black officials, including Hamm, said Murphy's opinion is well respected in Baltimore. Hamm said he and Murphy both grew up in Baltimore's Cherry Hill neighborhood and that he often agrees with the attorney on issues.

"But when his facts are wrong, we disagree," Hamm said.

The Sun reported in February that the Baltimore state's attorney's office declined to prosecute about 25,000 arrests last year -- about one in three. Data through August show that fewer cases are being dismissed, compared with the same time last year.

Hamm said officers got 1.5 million calls for assistance last year and that they make arrests based on probable cause. The high number of dismissed cases last year was based on poorly written police reports that prosecutors could not use to get convictions.

"At that time, I said we have some training issues; we have some police officers abusing their powers, and we have some supervisory issues. I said we would address them, and we have," Hamm said.

Hamm disagreed that morale is down. Blair said it was, but not because of anything O'Malley has done. "I believe morale is down because we're all being drug into a political election," Blair said.

doug.donovan@baltsun.com

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