The volunteer panel appointed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to hunt for Baltimore's next police commissioner has passed over some of the nation's most seasoned police executives -- targeting instead a new cadre of up-and-coming managers.
Meanwhile, critics are complaining that the mayor's order to conduct the search in secret has left the process open to internal politics.
And the length of the search -- which began in August, has run three weeks longer than originally predicted and is expected to last at least another two weeks -- has left some top candidates languishing on finalist lists in other cities competing with Baltimore for their services.
On Tuesday, San Diego Deputy Chief Norm Stamper -- who was courted by Mr. Schmoke's group in recent weeks -- was hired as chief of the Seattle Police Department from a list of five finalists that included at least one other top prospect for the Baltimore job.
Hubert Williams, the former chief of police in Newark, N.J., who is heading Mr. Schmoke's eight-member search committee, said that the criticism of Baltimore's search "is exactly what you expect to hear at this point."
"People's nerves get on edge," Mr. Williams said. "They get anxious. Some candidates start worrying about how they did in their interviews. Others are disappointed they didn't get invited for an interview and want to start taking potshots. I'd also say that no process is perfect, so there's always something to complain about.
"But I am confident that we will end up with a pool of very strong candidates that will bode well for the city of Baltimore."
Whether Baltimore will be getting the strongest possible list of candidates is another question.
Sixteen highly regarded police administrators around the country among them, veteran executives from Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Kansas City as well as Maryland -- said they haven't been contacted by the city. At a time of record turn-over in top police jobs nationwide, many of them have been finalists for chief in other major cities in recent months.
Mayor expects a top hire
Mayor Schmoke said Friday that he remains confident of Mr. Williams' ability to produce a "pool of leading lights in the law enforcement community and that one of them will be the next police commissioner of Baltimore."
"I have conducted a number of searches for top city executives in my time, and I have gone about it a number of different ways," the mayor said. "But they have always have had two things in common: You never reach everybody -- and you never have a problem coming up with a list of excellent candidates for the job.
"It's a big country out there."
Still, those in the nation's close-knit community of police chiefs // say there are fewer than 40 top-flight candidates in the country. Of them, only about a dozen are known to be seeking new posts at any time -- and their names appear repeatedly on applicants lists that are readily available from city governments.
"Most of the proven leaders who are qualified to run an agency that size are either comfortable where they are right now or would need a hell of an offer to make a move at this point in their careers," said John Pritchard, first deputy commissioner of the New York Police Department and president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
"I would have been happy to talk to Baltimore. But as far as anybody reaching out to me, I never got a call from anybody down there, and that's what it takes these days. There aren't that many of us, and you have to give us a reason to want to move."
$93,000 salary unattractive
Among those who were not contacted by Baltimore, more than half said they didn't apply on their own because of the comparatively low salary of $93,000 advertised by the city in several national magazines and the lack of a binding contract to protect them from being fired as they undertake painful reforms in the department.
Baltimore's police commissioner serves a six-year term. But the mayor has the power to fire him at will.
Mayor Schmoke rejected early calls from the City Council to increase the city's salary offer, saying he preferred to make it negotiable with the new commissioner. "That fact was not broadcast very well to the police community nationally," said Anthony Fisher, former chief in Tacoma Park and a finalist for the chief's job in Tallahassee, Fla., who did not apply in Baltimore because of the low salary and the lack of a contract.
"Largely, the Baltimore Police Department has an excellent reputation, but the department is also having some problems. And a chief needs some incentive and some job security to take that on. Some of the things you might need to do aren't going to be popular with certain factions in the department and the community.
"A lot of chief's will be asking themselves: Why put my career on the line?"
In what is seen by some in law enforcement circles as the search committee's most glaring omission, the committee never contacted recently retired Baltimore County Police Chief Neil Behan to ask for his resume or his advice.
Mr. Behan -- a 31-year veteran of the New York Police Department before he took over the county police for 16 years -- has advised presidents, mayors and county executives on law enforcement issues for more than a decade and is widely considered to be Maryland's most influential police figure.
"He wrote the book on a lot of things that are standard practice today in department's all over the country," said Thomas M. Seamon, a deputy police commissioner in Philadelphia who was a finalist for Dallas chief last summer.
Mr. Seamon was among the 16 executives interviewed by The Sun who were not contacted by the mayor's committee and decided not to apply because of the low salary offer.
"I think a lot of us just assumed that Neil Behan would be involved in the Baltimore search in some way," Mr. Seamon said. Contacted Wednesday, Mr. Behan called the city's silence "somewhat surprising because I do enjoy a certain reputation, and I am in Baltimore's backyard.
"If nothing else, I am close friends with a lot of very able candidates and would have been happy to lend the city any influence I might have."
Williams choice explained
But Mayor Schmoke said such concerns were precisely the reason that he chose Mr. Williams as the chairman of the committee.
Sitting squarely in the uppermost echelon of police executives, Mr. Williams directs the nonprofit Police Foundation and most recently served on the commission that investigated the causes of the Los Angeles riots.
"In the beginning, there were a lot of questions about how we were going to go about making this important decision," Mayor Schmoke said Friday. "Well those questions started dying away as soon as people heard the name Hubert Williams.
"He is a man of considerable stature."
But there is still danger in failing to make contact with some of the best and brightest candidates available, others say.
"Police chiefs tend to measure how serious the city is about getting the best person by the quality of the candidates who are available versus the quality of the people they actually contact," said St. Louis Police Chief Clarence Harmon. "If you're talking to top people, other top people will know you're serious and they'll apply.
"I'm used to getting calls when jobs like this come around -- whether it's Dallas or Seattle or Oakland -- and I'm not always sure I would be the best person for the job. But nobody from Baltimore made any overtures to me. No."
Likewise, Chief Marty Tapscott of Richmond and Chief Perry Anderson of Cambridge, Mass., who also has been chief of police in Miami. Two of the nation's most well-known chiefs, and neither was contacted by Baltimore.
The secrecy factor
The secrecy of the process in Baltimore -- in contrast to recent searches in cities such as Dallas, Oakland, Seattle and Tallahassee, where lists of candidates were released early on -- has also made it a daunting task for outsiders to determine who has applied for the job and to gauge their relative ability.
Mayor Schmoke's committee has gone so far as to move its meeting place to various hotels around the city from one week to the next as it pared the list of 84 original candidates down to the 24 who were finally interviewed. A tally of the cost of the search has not yet been released.
Chairman Williams defended the need for confidentiality, saying that some police executives would not have applied if they knew their employers would learn they were considering a job elsewhere.
5 names to be revealed
Mayor Schmoke said that he still intends to reveal the names of the final five candidates so "people in the community can judge the results of the search for themselves."
But others point out that at least a dozen U.S. cities have conducted successful searches in the past two years without the same level of secrecy.
"It's unfair as hell to do this to the applicants and to the rank-and-file police officers -- to keep us all in the dark on one of the biggest decisions affecting this department," said Lt. Leander S. Nevin, president of the Fraternal Order of Police union.
"By working in secret, the mayor can pull the strings anyway he wants."
Mr. Williams said that charge is "ridiculous," adding that "the mayor has had no input into the process whatsoever."
But the committee is composed of two members of the mayor's staff and three longtime political supporters, likely giving Mr. Schmoke a majority of votes when the final five candidates are picked. And that has eroded the committee's claims of objectivity in the mind of at least one candidate who was denied an interview.
"They are cutting people from the list for self-serving reasons without ever talking to them or giving them a chance to make a presentation," said the candidate, who has more than 25 years of police experience in California and the Midwest.
"Should I not hear from them with some justification, I will certainly want to know why. This is not how you do business."
Mr. Schmoke bristled at that, calling the members of the committee "people of uncompromising integrity."
"Yes, a few of them have supported me politically -- so I guess the issue is there if somebody wants to pick it up," he said. "But it's a self-interested criticism if ever I heard one. It's also unfairly demeaning to suggest that any of those people are beholden to the mayor, or that any of them would tarnish their reputations to serve the interests of Kurt Schmoke or anybody else."
For his part, Mr. Williams has steadfastly refused to say anything about the list of finalists -- except to acknowledge that none of them is a woman and that eight of them are from the Baltimore Police Department. He refuses to discuss their race, except to say that at least one is Hispanic. And he refuses to say where they're from, except to say "as far west as Texas."
4 possible finalists
But interviews with more than 30 police experts and executives nationwide reveal the names of four possible finalists. Three are black and one is white.
All of them have experience with "community policing" projects that put officers on foot patrol in neighborhoods -- a key qualification for the Baltimore job.
They are: Washington, D.C., Deputy Chief Richard Pennington, 46; New York Police Department Manhattan North Chief of Patrol Joe Leake, 54; Mobile, Ala., Chief of Police Harold Johnson, 52; and San Jose, Calif., Deputy Chief Tom Frazier, 48.
"I have made myself familiar with the qualifications of all the candidates and done considerable research myself into their backgrounds," Mayor Schmoke said. "I've talked to mayors and prosecutors all over the country checking up on them.
"There's no doubt in my mind as I sit here today that if people
will just be patient, they will be impressed by the final field of candidates we present to the public. They are among the best in their business."
FOUR POSSIBLE FINALISTS AT A GLANCE
San Jose, Calif.
Background: 27 years in San Jose police department. Rose from patrolman to serve in key positions throughout the department -- including organized crime and narcotics. Protege of visionary police chief Joseph McNamara, now a fellow at Stanford University and a friend of Mayor Schmoke. Outspoken, no-nonsense administrator. As deputy chief, helped write San Jose's community policing plan, has overseen its implementation since 1991. Recent finalist in Dallas, Seattle and Tallahassee.