- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 24, 2002

BALTIMORE Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward Norris says an off-the-books account used to pay for trips to New York, pricey steak dinners and gold-plated cuff links is business as usual.
Critics say the commissioner's use of the fund created decades ago for charitable purposes has gone too far.
The commissioner has spent about $178,000 from the fund in the past 2 years in office, including $20,000 on trips for Commissioner Norris, eight in the past year to New York, where he and others spent about $2,500 on meals at a Manhattan steakhouse.
While on one trip, Commissioner Norris interviewed for a vacant police commissioner job on Long Island. He also paid $550 for 55 pairs of gold-plated cuff links inscribed with the word "Commissioner," which were handed out as gifts.
"I think some of the money has been used inappropriately," said Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon, referring to the dinners, among other things.
Still, city officials say the well-liked commissioner has cleaned up neighborhoods and lowered the city's crime rate by 24 percent.
"I haven't gotten an outcry of people saying this is inexcusable," Miss Dixon said.
A public hearing to address questions surrounding the fund, will be scheduled with Commissioner Norris after Labor Day, she said.
The account, which totaled more than $440,000 when Commissioner Norris took office, grew from charitable, stock-invested donations dating back to 1929 to help the needy. Its purpose changed over time, and it has gone unaudited by city officials, passing through the hands of commissioners who have managed to keep the fund relatively secret.
"Is this a fund that has become a perk for commissioner after commissioner?" Miss Dixon said. "We're going to have a briefing to get to the bottom of that."
She said if Commissioner Norris is using the fund to pay for conferences and trips, the city can take that line item out of the police department's budget.
Mayor Martin O'Malley, who recruited Commissioner Norris from New York to lower the city's crime rate, stood behind Commissioner Norris after learning about the account, saying he was a "terrific" police commissioner. Mr. O'Malley, who did not respond to requests by the AP seeking comment, appointed Commissioner Norris this month to another six years as commissioner.
After reports of Commissioner Norris' spending first appeared, Mr. O'Malley initially said he didn't think the fund needed to be audited, trusting the police department's internal audit. After growing public concern, however, he ordered an independent audit by Ernst & Young to determine if any of the money was used for personal gain.
An internal police audit of the fund, however, found $8,400 was unaccounted for.
Commissioner Norris, who has not commented on the missing money, publicly defended his use of the fund. "I don't think it's uncommon for business to be done in good restaurants, frankly," he said.
Commissioner Norris noted that he attended seminars and met with high-ranking New York police officials to help recruit for the Baltimore Police Department.
He also said the meals and trips were instrumental in helping raise more than $3 million for the Baltimore Police Foundation, a nonprofit he established to help buy equipment and other items for the force.

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