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Mobtown Beat

The Ed Zone

Former Police Commissioner Reveals Crime Plan

Jefferson Jackson Steele
Former Baltimore police commissioner Ed Norris.

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 6/27/2007

At a press conference on Tuesday, June 19, former Baltimore City police commissioner Ed Norris unveiled before an audience of four TV news crews and three print journalists a plan to combat the wave of homicides and shootings that has swept the city this year. Held at the WHFS (105.7 FM) studio in Mount Washington, from which Norris hosts a weekday radio program, he detailed a seven-point plan of attack that, among other things, calls for an independent audit of crime statistics, increased police salaries, focus on violent crime instead of drugs, and processing the police department's backlog of DNA evidence. But the part of the plan that may be receiving the most attention right now is his suggestion that Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm and his entire command staff be fired.

"This is not a personal knock on Leonard Hamm or any of the people at the top," Norris said. "But the fact is a change has got to occur. If in fact, and we believe they are, the crime numbers have been manipulated for the last couple of years for political reasons, you can't have the people that were sitting in the chair at that time still there now because they're not going to want this to get out."

Norris (on whose radio show this reporter appears as a guest regularly) spent nearly an hour discussing his three-page plan, which he says is basically a simplified version of the extensive crime plan he released in 2000, when he became police commissioner. During Norris' three years as commissioner the city's homicide rate dipped below 300 for the first time in a decade and decreased each year he held the job. According to FBI statistics, the city also led the country in violent-crime reduction during that time.

But now, according to Norris, a lack of leadership in the police department and in City Hall has caused the city to regress.

"We've had the leadership of the police department tell us on television that they're not taking every crime report," he said, referring to a February 2006 WBAL-TV interview with Hamm, during which he told reporter Jayne Miller that it was acceptable for police officers to not take statements from uncooperative victims--even in cases involving shootings. "We know this for a fact."

He countered city officials' insistence that violent crime is down in the city by pointing out that shootings in Baltimore are up 35 percent from last year.

"It's counterintuitive," he said. "It doesn't pass the smell test. Murder is up, shootings are up, not 5 percent, 35 percent. Murder is up almost 20 over last year, yet they expect you to believe that crime is down in every single other category that's not so easily manipulated. There's no police cemetery, they can't hide the bodies."

Norris is not the only one with a crime plan--Mayor Sheila Dixon (D) and City Councilman (and mayoral hopeful) Keiffer Mitchell (D-11th) also have put forth proposals to combat crime. According to FBI statistics, Baltimore had the second-highest murder rate in the country in 2006, after Detroit. As of June 25 there were 151 murders in the city, compared to 132 at the same time last year--an increase of nearly 20 homicides, putting the city on pace to make 300 murders by the year's end. That was a common occurrence in the 1990s, but 300 has been an invisible line the city has not crossed since 1999.

After a closed-door meeting at police headquarters that evening, at which Dixon explained her own crime plan to representatives of police districts and divisions, she was asked about Norris' crime plan.

"His plan sounds like it duplicates my plan," she said. "He just said it a little louder and more passionate."

Norris says her response is "ridiculous."

"The mayor and frankly most of the candidates, they don't have plans, they have wishes," he says. That comment echoes the opinions of the city's Fraternal Order of Police and some of Dixon's mayoral opponents, who say the crime plan she released in April was little more than a flashy PowerPoint presentation with few specifics. "My challenge to her would be, if indeed we're on the same page and the plans are the same, then when can we expect the audit to begin?" Norris asks.

Comparing the plans shows only two real similarities: Both Norris and Dixon call for a focus on guns and violent offenders, and both call for continued work with Project Exile, a program under which gun charges are tried in federal court with convictions carrying high minimum sentences at out-of-state prisons.

Norris' plan does include a couple of costly measures, notably processing the DNA backlog and increasing police salaries. He suggests that some of the money could be gotten by tapping the private sector and applying for grants: "There's money available if you can show a real need."

Several candidates for mayor--state Del. Jill Carter (D-41st), Councilman Mitchell, and Circuit Court Clerk Frank Conaway (D)--have already agreed with point No. 7 in Norris' plan, which suggests that the city "completely change the leadership of the BPD." Each of those candidates has called for Hamm to step down.

Dixon has been vague on this proposal, but when she was asked by ABC2 News on June 19 whether she could give Hamm "a full vote of confidence at this time," her reply was indirect.

"Right now we're going through an interim period," she told the reporter. "And I think overall all of my department heads and leaders, there's an assessment period."

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