Crime Scenes: Top police commander retiring

Blunt cop who leaked confidential memo to The Sun says he has no regrets

February 19, 2011|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

He grew up listening to his elders telling tales of vice raids over games of pinochle, and he followed his grandfather, father and uncle onto the city's police force.

On Wednesday, after nearly 38 years patrolling Baltimore's streets and helping run the department, Lt. Col. Michael J. Andrew is retiring, just two months shy of turning 60, bringing to a close a family lineage that stretches back to 1921.

Having joined the force in June 1973, he's the last active-duty cop to have held the rank of captain and one of the last who remembers using call-box keys and summoning help by banging his nightstick — lovingly known in Baltimore as an espantoon — on the sidewalk.

He remains blunt and outspoken, unapologetic for leaking a memo to The Baltimore Sun in 2004 that criticized a fatal shooting by a police officer. It was a daring decision that briefly got him fired and sparked years of legal battles with the city that ended with a recent court ruling that restored back pay, preserved his job and was considered a victory for whistle-blowers.

In February last year, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III promoted Andrew out of purgatory in the Property Division to run the Special Operations Section, which includes the tactical team, a move the veteran officer told me "resurrected my career."

But Andrew feared that the transfer was a temporary appeasement in the wake of his court settlement; he said he's sure City Hall wasn't exactly pleased with his legal fight and outspoken demeanor. A few weeks ago, he said Bealefeld called him into his office, told him he was making command changes and "asked me if I was considering retiring."

Andrew told him he wanted to stay another year, but added, "If you're going to make command changes and I don't fit into your future, I've accomplished what I want to accomplish. I'll retire if you want."

Andrew will end his career in a ceremony with Bealefeld, who is revising his command staff amid tough budget times. The seven colonels of just a few years ago have dwindled to two; the four lieutenant colonels will soon be down to two.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi called the moves "prudent and deliberate."

Andrew warns that the top ranks are teetering.

"They have to streamline," he said. "But they've made it really thin at the top."

Andrew graduated from Mount St. Joseph High School and the University of Maryland with a degree in business. He joined the Police Department as a patrol officer in the Southwestern, and he commanded the Eastern and Western districts.

Shy is not one of his attributes.

Upset with a 2003 police raid that ended with the shooting death of a 78-year-old man, Andrew handed a Sun reporter a secret memo that criticized tactical officers for cutting off negotiations too quickly before storming inside the apartment. His bosses fired Andrew, then re-instated him but with a desk job.

A six-year legal battle ended last year when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that Andrew's leak was protected because he was speaking as a private citizen about "concerns of public safety." The court criticized government for "treating too summarily those who bring, often at personal risk, its operations into public view."

Appeals Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote that he worried without proper oversight, "the complex and powerful machinery of government [would] become democracy's dark lagoon." He said that such scrutiny "is impossible without sources such as Michael Andrew." He's probably one of the few cops to ever assemble the backing of groups as varied as the police union, the ACLU and a reporters' committee for free press.

There are few people left like Andrew, on the police force or anywhere in government, who are willing to stand on conviction. He risked his career when he gave that memo to a reporter, and never backed down, never changed his story, never claimed to be misquoted, never shirked from his reasoning.

"I went in with my eyes open," he told me after winning his lawsuit. "And I'd do it all over again."

Here's Andrew, as a captain in charge of the Western in 1994, trying to explain how a city worker fixing a pothole was felled by a stray bullet: "The guy was just trying to make a decent living and in the middle of the daytime, he gets shot in the mouth. If you can figure that out, explain it to me."

Here's Andrew two years ago when he alone put on his dress blues and showed up at a court hearing for a killer of a cop seeking an early release from prison. Later, he publicly dressed down his colleagues for their absence, saying, "We lost our way."

And here's Andrew when a 5-year-old boy was hurt last summer after he darted out into traffic and was hit by a police car. He visited the young man and took him Oriole bobble heads, a police patch and tickets to a baseball game.

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