In the wake of a Sun article detailing diminished morale in the Baltimore Police Department, Mayor Martin O'Malley declared unequivocal support yesterday for Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark.
The mayor said any departmental disgruntlement stems mostly from veteran officers resistant to reforms and from union leaders upset with stalled contract talks. O'Malley also said, however, that the department could improve the ways it communicates its mission.
"We should distinguish between people being unsatisfied with contract negotiations and morale," O'Malley said yesterday, responding to questions from reporters.
"We should also distinguish between top-level commanders worried about their jobs, their longevity and getting their [benefits] in terms of when they retire, and the vast majority of men and women who are out there on the street ... who are glad we're heading in the right direction."
Yesterday's article in The Sun documented discontent and unease throughout the ranks that could harm crime-fighting at a time when homicides are on pace to reach nearly 300 killings by year's end. Much of the criticism, which came from officers and commanders who requested anonymity because they feared possible reprisals, stemmed from Clark's recent senior-staff shake-ups and a perceived inability to communicate his department's plan to fight drugs and homicides. Through yesterday, Baltimore had recorded 160 homicides this year, putting it on pace for 297 killings for the year. That would surpass last year's total of 253 but would be far fewer than the 300 that was the annual benchmark of the 1990s.
O'Malley called such early projections "irresponsible" and "very dangerous."
He said Baltimore's 25.98 percent reduction incidents of violent crime during the first three years of his administration leads the nation. He credited police officers for the record but said more progress is needed.
He said Clark was hired to build on reforms started by the former commissioner, Edward T. Norris. Clark was charged with drastically changing narcotics enforcement.
When Norris took over in 2000, he and O'Malley published a 161-page plan for reducing crime in the city. Clark, appointed in February, has not presented his plan in writing, a major criticism from the Vanguard Justice Society, an advocacy group for black officers.
A new plan is in the works. In March, the Board of Estimates, which sets the city's fiscal policy, approved a $90,000 contract to Linder & Associates to revise the plan it developed for Norris. O'Malley said the plan's draft is being reviewed internally.
Clark said Monday that he believes he has been effectively communicating his plan, and O'Malley praised him for spreading it while on rounds to police precincts throughout the city. But the mayor also said he is eager for the report to be published.
"I am somewhat frustrated that we have not been able to nail down the written plan and get it out to the general public," O'Malley said. "I think Commissioner Clark would agree that communications is one thing that maybe we all need to allocate a little more time to."
The most glaring communication breakdown in the department is between the administration and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, which represents the department's 3,300 officers. The union has refused to formally negotiate O'Malley's offer of no pay raises for at least one year and higher health care premiums. FOP members have been working under the terms of a contract that expired June 30. Over the previous three years, O'Malley gave the FOP members substantial raises.
"Any union leader worth his salt will tell you therefore morale is not good," O'Malley said.
The fiscal constraints that have the mayor's contract negotiators pushing for no raises have also forced Clark to curtail overtime, which Norris used to reduce homicides.
Still, much criticism points to Clark's reorganization of the department's top ranks. Of the city's nine police districts, one has the same commander as when Clark arrived in February. He also lost the three commanders who occupied the highest operational positions at police headquarters.
The shake-ups and losses have created unease among commanders, who serve at the pleasure of the commissioner, meaning they can be fired or demoted at any time.
O'Malley said yesterday that such worries are expected during a time of major reform.
"He is making all the commanders work much harder than they've ever worked before," O'Malley said of Clark. "It would not surprise me in the least that some commanders who have been here under less exacting standards might not be happy and will choose to leave or be asked to leave if they're not performing."
Sun staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.