Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has tapped Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris to head the Maryland State Police, a decision made public not by Ehrlich's transition team but by Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.
O'Malley released a statement yesterday announcing Norris's imminent departure after two years in the city police job. Norris is expected to be one of three law enforcement appointments announced by Ehrlich today, according to sources familiar with the decision.
"I wish Eddie all the luck in the world in his new job," O'Malley said. "He helped turn this department around, and as a result, we have led the nation in the reduction of violent crime."
As head of Baltimore's 3,300-officer police force, Norris presided over a reduction in violent crime of 21 percent from 1999 to 2002. In 2000, Norris's first year, the number of homicides dropped below 300 for the first time in 10 years, and the number remained below 300 last year. But the city still struggles with a high homicide rate.
In the meantime, Norris drew criticism this year for the way he used money drawn from a departmental fund.
Ehrlich (R) has been keeping a tight lid on his appointment decisions, and O'Malley's statement apparently caught the governor-elect's team off guard.
A spokesman seemed genuinely annoyed that O'Malley -- a Democrat who is widely viewed as a potential challenger to Ehrlich in 2006 -- blew the whistle.
"We are sticking to our guidelines, regardless of what anyone else in the state says or does," said spokesman Henry Fawell, who would not confirm or deny the appointment. "We will make an announcement when Governor Ehrlich is ready."
Norris's appointment was not entirely unexpected. Norris, a longtime Republican who switched his registration to independent when he moved to Baltimore, attended an Ehrlich victory party in November.
Norris would replace State Police Superintendent David B. Mitchell, who endorsed Ehrlich's Democratic opponent in this fall's election, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Norris, a former New York City commander, came to Baltimore in 2000, preaching the same kind of zero tolerance that is credited with dramatically reducing crime in New York. O'Malley's selection was initially controversial, in part because Norris was a white outsider in a majority-black city.
He set his sights on cutting one of the nation's highest homicide rates, and FBI statistics show that the rate of violent crime has dropped significantly.
But Baltimore, per capita, is still ranked the second-most deadly of the 25 largest U.S. cities, the latest FBI statistics show. In recent months, Baltimore has been rocked by horrific crimes: The firebombing of a rowhouse in October killed a family of seven that had complained to police about drug dealing in the neighborhood. Last month, shootings left four police officers wounded and one dead.
As an administrator, Norris moved quickly to reorganize the department, using a series of transfers and promotions to create his management team and eliminating programs that kept officers off the streets. He also tested his troops with internal stings, which led to the arrest of an officer accused of taking a package of fake drugs and planting them on a suspect. Criminal charges were later dismissed after the evidence disappeared from a police evidence room.
Norris came under fire last summer when it was disclosed that he had spent $178,000 from a departmental fund for expenses that included trips to New York, gifts and baseball tickets for officers and restaurant meals.
A recent audit suggested that he repay about $5,522 for questionable or personal expenses and $2,700 for cash advances that lacked proper documentation. No fraud was found.
The Associated Press contributed to the report.