One Police Plaza

Betrayal by high-flying cop painful

June 25, 2004

Standing before a federal judge in Maryland, his dark suit tight across his barrel chest, Ed Norris - a former NYPD deputy commissioner and Baltimore police commissioner - started to cry.

His wife, Kathryn, had just asked U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett of Baltimore for leniency for her husband, who began dabbing at his eyes with a handkerchief.

In March, Norris, most recently head of the Maryland state police, pleaded guilty to spending $30,000 from a secret Baltimore police fund on unauthorized trips to New York, expensive meals and hotel stays with various women.

Policing is macho business, and Norris, who made his reputation in the NYPD under Jack Maple in reducing crime, was more macho than most.

To him, the job was a calling. At his NYPD retirement dinner at Russo's on the Bay in Howard Beach, he described the police life he had embraced as one of violence and tragedy, dignity and wonderment.

"What makes it so painful," he said afterward, "is what makes it so wonderful. What the rest of the world averts, we rush into. I regard our work as a privilege."

His fall seemed all the more painful and enigmatic because of the heights to which he had risen. Howard Safir had appointed him Maple's successor as deputy commissioner of operations. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley named him commissioner largely on Safir's recommendation. When Michael Bloomberg became mayor, Norris was included in his police brain trust along with Ray Kelly. And former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani wrote to Bennett, praising Norris' years in New York as "creative, hard-working and dedicated to the mission of fighting crime."

So forceful was Norris that even after his indictment six months before, he persuaded a federal magistrate to allow him to keep his firearm for protection. He gave it up when he pleaded guilty.

Some at One Police Plaza have maintained that his indictment was retaliation from the FBI after Norris criticized its 9/11 performance. Others maintain that what he did was inexcusable. Whereas drug corruption in the 30th Precinct a decade ago was viewed by many in the department as crimes of opportunity, what Norris did is viewed as thought-out and continual.

"He wasn't some young cop," said John Guido, former chief of Internal Affairs. "He was a deputy commissioner. He was older. He knew better.

At Norris' sentencing, his wife, seemingly undaunted by her husband's betrayal, was quoted by the Baltimore Sun as telling the judge, "Eddie is a great father and I need him with me at home, to keep our family together."

She and Norris have moved to Tampa, Fla., where Norris takes care of their 5-year-old son while she works.

"I fully accept responsibility for what happened here," Norris told the judge. "I know what it's done to the Police Department. I know what it's done to my family."

Wiping his eyes, he said, "I've said I was sorry for this many, many times; I'll be saying it for the rest of my life."

Before pronouncing sentence, Bennett noted that shortly after 9/11, Norris left an International Association of Chiefs of Police convention that focused on terrorism so he could carouse.

"If there was ever a time in the history of this country that we need to depend on the integrity of police, that time is now," Bennett said.

As Bennett spoke, Norris' father, Ed Norris Sr., himself a former NYPD captain and later chief of staff to Betsy Gotbaum at the parks department, walked out of the courtroom. He, too, appeared to be crying.

Bennett sentenced Norris to 6 months in prison, 6 months house arrest, a $10,000 fine and 500 hours of community service in Baltimore.

One last note: Norris' chief of staff, former NYPD Deputy Inspector John Stendrini, who accompanied Norris on his traveling sprees, was sentenced to 6 months of house arrest and 3 years probation. Thirty years before, Stendrini was the cop who drove Frank Serpico to the hospital after Serpico had been shot.

A poll in the hand. The political polling firm of Penn, Schoen & Berland has produced a 60-page report for former judge Leslie Crocker Snyder in her exploratory run for Manhattan district attorney against incumbent Robert Morgenthau, 84.

The report says that 74 percent of voters are familiar with the 30-year incumbent and that 67 percent have a favorable opinion of him.

As might be expected of the man who knows where every body in Manhattan is buried, the report ended up in the hands of his supporters.

©2004 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.