With new leadership, Bealefeld wants progress in murder investigations

CrimeHomicideColleges and UniversitiesFrederick H. Bealefeld, IIIDavid Simon

After conducting a nationwide search for a new leader for his vaunted but scuffling homicide unit, Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III instead looked inward to a trusted commander who hadn't even applied for the job.

Bealefeld chose Lt. Col. Garnell Green, and in an interview the commissioner said Green would have his support to make changes he deems necessary.

"I want progress," Bealefeld said. "At the end of the day, I don't have time for excuses. The mayor and the people of the city should expect that the homicide clearance rate improves."

Green, a 22-year veteran, replaces Maj. Terrence McLarney, who had been investigating murders since the 1980s, when detectives were clearing more than 70 percent of cases. That figure in recent years has dipped below 50 percent, and McLarney was forced out over the summer.

Green's experience with homicide cases is relatively brief. He spent just a year in the unit in 2002 as a sergeant, though officials said he has extensive investigative experience and once worked in internal affairs. Though there were 30 to 40 candidates for the job, including some from New York City and other outside agencies, Green wasn't one of them.

"I was excited about some of the names I saw on there, but at the end of the process, the feedback was that it was more of the same of what we've got," Bealefeld said.

Bealefeld said he isn't concerned that Green, who wasn't made available for an interview, wasn't gunning for the spot.

"I went to the man and said, 'Look, I need you to do this job. This department needs you to do this job, and you are the guy who has the skill set to deliver what needs to be done there,'" he said. "He's delivered in every task that I've asked him to do."

Bealefeld's priorities include developing a long-term strategy for the unit, including improving the clearance rate but also "developing talent." Observers have said the homicide unit hasn't been the same since a policy was instituted in the late 1990s that moved veterans out and involved rotating other officers through.

With murders at the lowest rate in the city since 1988, Bealefeld said, detectives are handling fewer cases — and should be solving more.

"I'm the guy that sacked McLarney," Bealefeld said, referring to the dismissal of a detective who featured prominently David Simon's seminal book, "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets."

"That speaks volumes about how I feel about the direction [the unit] was going."

Green's promotion led to a number of other changes, including the promotion of Lt. Col. Robert Booker to Green's old post, and Maj. Clifton McWhite to the Western District. McWhite, a 16-year veteran, was moved 13 months ago from the district to the Special Investigations Section to oversee reforms in the sex offense unit in the wake of The Baltimore Sun's reporting on detectives discarding rape reports at a high rate.

McWhite "has put some foundations in place in his tenure there, and now it's time to take that to the next level. He's put us in a position to do that," Bealefeld said.

Taking McWhite's place will be Martin Bartness, a 14-year veteran who in recent years has been working for the deputy commissioner of operations, Anthony Barksdale. Bartness, who briefly served as a department spokesman a decade ago, was in the first graduating class of an innovative recruiting program to attract college-educated police officers.

He and 43 others from 10 states, 28 universities and 18 disciplines were among the first officers in the nation to get their college tuition reimbursed from the federal government in exchange for a four-year commitment to the Police Department, a program called the Police Corps.

"We are the product of an experiment," Bartness told his training class. "We are likely to encounter skepticism, and potentially we will even face resentment. We will try extremely hard to act with humility and to tell other officers we are there for the same reason – to improve the life of others."

Sun reporter Peter Hermann contributed to this article.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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