Two months ago, Baltimore Police Commissioner Donald Pomerleau resigned after a 15-year reign as the city's most powerful and controversial law enforcement figure for what most believed would be a retirement devoted to private security consulting and relaxation on his Virginia farm.
But this week Pomerleau emerged again in Baltimore -- reincarnated as the proposed head of what one city official calls a "mini police department," a quasipublic corporation that will provide guards at city buildings for a price 25 percent higher than current private security services.
For those who thought they had bid farewell to the commissioner, the proposed job raised questions as to both Pomerleau's role and the wisdom of creating what City Council President Walter Orlinsky called a second police force.
"I couldn't be more surprised about Pomerleau. He had retired and disappeared from the Baltimore scene, and left it in good hands," said Mary Pat Clarke, one of several City Council members up in arms over the proposal. "It is shocking to learn that long before he retired he sat down with the powers that be and worked out this arrangement."
Under the proposal, which still must be approved by the city's Board of Estimates, Pomerleau would be paid $25,000 for 96 days of consulting work the first year as the corporation's chief executive officer, an amount that works out to slightly more than $32.50 an hour.
According to Pomerleau, the new security service was not his suggestion, but he says that before he retired he said he might go into security consulting. "I am in private business," he said yesterday. "I am not going back on the city payroll. I have D.D. Pomerleau and Associates Management and Security Consultants. I am in business and if they want my services, I provide the services."
He added that it is a mistake to characterize the security service as a "mini police force" because the guards will have no investigative powers and only a few will carry guns or have the authority to make arrests.
City Finance Director Charles Benton agreed the proposed force, to be called Baltimore's Best Security, was not Pomerleau's idea, although he said Pomerleau's staff did conduct a survey of the private security guards at city agencies last July and confirmed the city's opinion that they were "generally inadequate."
"His Pomerleau's principal recommendation was that you pay the minimum wage to security guards and that's what you're getting," Benton said.
Benton said the new force was his own idea and that in late July Pomerleau indicated an interest in heading such a corporation if the city set it up.
Benton said the current guards, who work for private firms selected through the city's bidding procedures, have been found asleep on the job, have a high rate of absenteeism and are usually poorly trained. They are generally paid the minimum wage, $3.35 an hour.
Guards in the proposed force would go through training provided by the city police department and community colleges at no charge and be paid about $5.25 an hour.
To the guards now employed by the city, the whole thing doesn't make sense.
As Gloria Harris, a guard supervisor at the city's auto impoundment lot who makes $3.75 an hour, said today, "there will be more unemployment if they start this new service. And who's to say they're going to do a better job?"
The proposed service would cost the city about 25 percent more than the current $1 million annually spent on guards at 10 public agencies, Benton said. There would also be start-up costs of about $150,000 for such things as a communications system and uniforms, according to Benton.
Orlinsky said it is wrong for a "city that doesn't have much money" to be paying 25 percent more for security services. "We're going to end up with a lot of security guards to guard empty buildings where we won't be able to deliver services."
Both Orlinsky and Councilman Michael Mitchell, a frequent critic of Pomerleau, are concerned that the proposed corporation would not be accountable to anyone in city government. "It's outrageous, the delegation of police power to a paramilitary group," said Mitchell.