- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2002

BALTIMORE (AP) Police Commissioner Edward Norris reportedly tapped a secret, off-the-books fund to pay for $178,000 in trips, gifts and upscale meals over the past two years.
The fund, started during the Great Depression with charitable donations to help the needy, has since become a "supplemental" account for police commissioners to use as they please, the Baltimore Sun reported yesterday.
Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, said he was unaware the fund existed until recently, and criticized Commissioner Norris for his handling of the fund, which topped $440,000 when the commissioner took office, the newspaper reported.
"I'm a bit angry that there wasn't better and tighter accounting," Mr. O'Malley said. "Because if there were, there wouldn't be any room for any questions."
Mr. O'Malley said he ordered the money be turned over to the control of city Finance Director Peggy Watson.
Despite his annoyance, Mr. O'Malley said he stood behind Commissioner Norris, saying he was "a terrific police officer and police commissioner."
Commissioner Norris used the fund for a laundry list of gifts and perks, including $433 worth of sweat shirts and jackets to keep police officers warm during an Orioles' game in April. The fund also paid for 55 pairs of gold-plated cuff links, costing $550, inscribed with the word "Commissioner," which were given as gifts by Commissioner Norris.
He also used the fund to buy a $3,783.75 Apple laptop computer that he keeps at home, a purchase that normally would have to be approved by the city's Board of Estimates.
In addition, the account financed $20,000 in trips for Commissioner Norris, including eight in the past year to New York, where he and others spent about $2,500 on meals at a Manhattan steakhouse.
Commissioner Norris, who was sworn in for a six-year term Tuesday, defended his purchases, saying they were all legitimate expenses. He said he conducted business during his New York trips, attending seminars and meeting with high-ranking New York police officials to help recruit for the Baltimore Police Department. However, he declined to reveal whom he was courting from the New York department.
Commissioner Norris also said the meals and trips were instrumental in helping to raise more than $3 million for the Baltimore Police Foundation, a nonprofit established by Commissioner Norris to help buy equipment and other items for the force.
The account, which went unaudited by city officials or the Board of Estimates, has passed through the hands of several police commissioners who managed to keep the fund relatively secret. In the 1990s, Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier spent about $300,000 in five years, police officials said.
Commissioner Norris said he and other commissioners were entitled to use the fund because the account did not contain taxpayer money.
The account grew from funds dating back to 1929, financed by donations and activities from the public and police officers.
The fund also included shares from Union Trust Company, which gave the department 233 shares of stock in lieu of cash. Over the years, the account grew to contain 9,840 shares of Capitol One Financial Corp stock.
In 2000, Commissioner Norris ordered the sale of 2,500 shares, adding $112,185 to the supplemental fund, an interest-bearing checking account. He had spent most of that money by November, when $142.53 remained. Commissioner Norris then ordered the sale of $50,000 worth of stock.
Commissioner Norris said the fund was poorly supervised and called the accounting "sloppy."
"It was a terrible system," the commissioner told the Sun. "Believe me, this was an accountant's nightmare."
City Comptroller Joan Pratt said she didn't know about the account until Tuesday when she was contacted by a reporter.
"I believe that there should be some checks and balances and oversight, and I don't think one individual should have sole discretion to have unlimited spending without accountability," Miss Pratt said.

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