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The Nose

Hamm Time?

Posted 2/2/2005

On Nov. 10, Mayor Martin O’Malley fired then-Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Clark and named then-No. 2 Man Leonard Hamm the department’s acting commissioner, with the assumption that he would soon become permanent. The Nose was not surprised by Hamm’s promotion, as he was hired back to the Baltimore Police Department a couple of months earlier by O’Malley as Deputy Chief of Operations. But now, two and a half months later, the mayor has yet to send Hamm’s name to the City Council for approval.

O’Malley tells the Nose it’s because “we’ve gone to extra measures to be as thorough as we can possibly be.” Alluding to the problems with his last two police commissioners—Edward Norris, who recently finished serving six months in federal prison for misuse of police funds, and Clark, who O’Malley fired in the wake of an alleged domestic-violence incident—hizzoner says that, “fairly or unfairly to Commissioner Hamm,” his background investigation is far more thorough than previous ones.

But why, the Nose asked O’Malley, wasn’t that kind of investigation done when he first hired Hamm back to the department? O’Malley does not dispute our suggestion that he’d planned on Hamm replacing Clark from the start, and says that there was some initial investigation. “I relied on Commissioner Clark” for the background check, he tells the Nose.

At the time he was hired, Hamm headed the Morgan State University Police Department. Before that, he had spent more than two decades in the city police department, worked for the Downtown Partnership, and headed the city’s School Police.

When pressed about why Hamm’s background check is still ongoing, O’Malley says repeatedly that it is just a case of being “thorough.” How much longer will it take? When will Hamm’s name finally be submitted to the City Council? “Oh, I don’t know,” O’Malley replies.

The delay is not sitting well with some members of the City Council. “It’s time to take the ‘acting’ off the commissioner’s name,” says Councilman Keiffer Mitchell Jr. (D-11th), one of O’Malley’s staunchest supporters. Hamm needs to be made permanent to “bring stability to the department,” Mitchell says.

Councilman Bernard “Jack” Young (D-12th), who chairs the council’s Executive Appointments Committee, which will eventually hold the hearing on Hamm, agrees that putting a permanent police commissioner into place is needed to “restore stability” in the department. Young says that he thought O’Malley would already have done his “due diligence”—made all the background inquiries needed—before naming Hamm to the “acting” position. He says he hopes the mayor submits Hamm’s name in early February, “but who knows?”

Hamm, however, says he isn’t perturbed by the delay. “The investigation hasn’t been completed,” he tells the Nose. “It’s being done by an outside concern.” In the meantime, he’s taken over all the responsibilities of the job.

City Council member Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th), however, says she wants his name sent over for nomination immediately. After a nearly decade-long sabbatical from politics, the former council president, who lost the 1995 mayoral race, returned to council this year. Clarke says she’s seen Hamm in action—meeting with community groups, addressing their concerns, and spending hours at a recent community meeting. “We are anxious to settle the issue of stability in the police department by having a commissioner nominated,” she says, echoing her colleagues. And, she says, Hamm’s the man for that job.

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