Bealefeld eases through hearing

Nominee for police chief gains much praise, little criticism from City Council members

November 08, 2007|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

Frederick H. Bealefeld III, nominated to be the city's police commissioner, cruised through a City Council committee confirmation hearing last night -- picking up praise from virtually every corner of the room while facing few specific questions about crime.

In a lengthy statement, Bealefeld told members of the council he is committed to pursuing the city's most violent offenders and improving the department's image by expanding training and putting more officers on the street.

A 26-year police veteran, Bealefeld said the department has arrested 600 gang members and served more than 13,000 warrants since he became acting commissioner in July. His statement did not directly address the city's homicide count, which -- though it has slowed in recent weeks -- is higher than last year's at this time.

He said the number of arrested people released without charges had dropped by 23 percent.

"We have a huge effort before us. But these results tell us something very important: There is hope," said the 45-year-old Bealefeld. "Sweat and imagination and commitment and a sense of responsibility pay off. The men and women of this department have got us started on the right track. We promise to do much more."

The council's executive appointments committee did not vote yesterday. Although several members of the council who do not sit on the committee attended, there was not a quorum of committee members at the end of the hearing -- in part because its chairman, City Councilman Robert W. Curran, is ill.

The committee will meet for a vote before the full council's Nov. 19 meeting. Bealefeld is expected to win confirmation by a wide margin.

Bealefeld -- who started his career in the Western District and following his great-grandfather and grandfather into policing -- was selected by Mayor Sheila Dixon as acting commissioner to replace Leonard D. Hamm, who was asked to resign in July. Bealefeld was deputy commissioner of operations at the time and was responsible for the department's day-to-day management.

Council members asked about a range of issues, including a lack of diversity in the upper ranks, property crime, police overtime and police relations with the community. The acting commissioner said he is working to address the concerns about diversity, and he noted that property crime is a priority of the department.

To improve relations with the community, he said, the department would focus on better training, taking more officers out of patrol cars and putting them on the street, and holding accountable police who do not follow the rules.

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who represents portions of Northeast Baltimore, raised a common complaint from residents in that region about an understaffed district. She also asked about the department's policy for taking reports. "So often our constituents say they [the police] came, but they didn't write a report," she said.

Bealefeld said that under a new labor agreement, officers in the Northeast District will work different schedules, allowing a near-doubling of the number of officers on patrol during the peak crime hours. Regarding reports, he said it is the department's policy for officers to take a report when a crime occurs.

"There is no command from on high not to take reports, or hide reports or hide crime," he said. "The reality is there are some officers -- not many, but some -- that don't always do their jobs at our level of standard."

City Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who represents portions of East Baltimore, said he is concerned about diversity and ensuring that officers are promoted based on merit, not the "old boys system." He said he was glad to hear Bealefeld address community relations in his opening statement.

Paul M. Blair Jr., president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police, said he supported Bealefeld's confirmation.john.fritze@baltsun.com

See the acting commissioner's full opening statement at baltimoresun.com/bealefeld.

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