|First appearance||"The Target" (episode 1.01)|
|Last appearance||"Transitions" (episode 5.04)|
|Created by||David Simon|
|Portrayed by||Frankie Faison|
|Occupation||Mayoral crime committee advisor|
Ervin Burrell is a fictional character on the HBO drama The Wire, played by actor Frankie Faison. Burrell was an officer in the Baltimore Police Department who ascended from Deputy Commissioner of Operations to Commissioner over the course of the show. He was fired by Mayor Tommy Carcetti for falsifying crime statistics.
Burrell is a careerist who believes in the BPD's chain of command and stores knowledge of corrupt activities of officers below him to maintain his authority. Burrell is a statistical bureaucrat who cares more about reducing crime on paper than building strong cases. He is conscious of the media coverage of the BPD and is very sensitive to the newspaper headlines concerning its progress. Throughout the series, he struggles to direct the BPD to make an adequate impact on crime reduction and is constantly engaged in conflict with the city's politicians, some of whom blame him for the department's problems.
The ambitious Deputy Commissioner Burrell plans to ascend to Commissioner, a post held by Warren Frazier throughout the second season. Burrell's primary responsibility is to ensure that Frazier's directives are obeyed throughout the department. He consistently shows more interest in making good headlines rather than good cases.
When drug dealer D'Angelo Barksdale beats a murder charge by buying off a witness, Burrell faces criticism from the presiding judge, Daniel Phelan, over the BPD's failure to investigate D'Angelo's uncle, the drug kingpin Avon Barksdale. Burrell hastily assembles a task force to placate Phelan, under the command of Lieutenant Cedric Daniels. From the beginning, Burrell is unsupportive of the unit, giving Daniels the worst officers available. He orders premature seizure raids that tip the Barksdale organization to the detail's efforts and prompts them to change their operating structure, hindering further investigation.
When the detail begins investigating donations from the Barksdale organization to local politicians, Burrell realizes the political implications. He is also upset to find that the case is becoming prolonged and that the detail has set up wiretaps. The detail seizes Barksdale money being carried by a driver for the corrupt state senator Clay Davis, but Burrell orders Daniels to return the money in order to avoid embarrassing the senator.
Burrell next orders the detail to perform an undercover operation, which ends in disaster and result in the shooting of Detective Kima Greggs. The high-profile shooting prompts more involvement from Frazier, who, along with Burrell, try to project the image of a strong department to the public by seizing a large amount of narcotics. In retaliation for the shooting, Burrell insists that Daniels' detail raid the Barksdales' main stash house, an act which causes them to stop using pay phones altogether — effectively nullifying the detail's wiretaps. Burrell bribes Detective Ellis Carver with a promotion to sergeant in exchange for information from inside the detail.
To force Daniels to meet his demands, Burrell threatens to revisit previous allegations towards Daniels which showed him in possession of an excessive income from his days in the Eastern District's Drug Enforcement Unit. Daniels turns the threat back on Burrell by telling him that he was ready to face the charges and cause bad press. When the Barksdale case ends, Burrell reassigns Daniels to evidence control as punishment for defying him. Burrell also learns that a detective from the detail, Jimmy McNulty, had leaked information to Phelan; he approves McNulty's reassignment to the harbor patrol unit as punishment.
With Frazier's retirement, Burrell is named Acting Commissioner of the BPD. With the support of the mayor and many of the city's African American political figures, Burrell's appointment to Commissioner was highly likely. The only dissenting voices came from first district council members. Major Stan Valchek, the Southeastern District commander with political connections, offers Burrell support from the first district in exchange for assembling an investigative detail against Frank Sobotka. Valchek is convinced that Sobotka, the local head of a stevedore union, is smuggling through the docks; he also holds a petty grudge against Sobotka.
Burrell gives Valchek six detectives for the new detail, and gives them six weeks to find evidence against Sobotka and the union. However, as Burrell doesn't see any value in the Sobotka investigation, he gives Valchek the worst officers available, just as he had with Daniels. Valchek is disappointed with the ineffective detail and furious when he hears through his son-in-law, Detective Roland Pryzbylewski, that Burrell interfered with the Barksdale case. Valchek demands better officers, threatening to derail Burrell's bid for Commissioner; he specifically demands that Daniels lead the detail.
When Burrell attempts to convince Daniels to stay with the department, the lieutenant realizes that Burrell was doing so at Valchek's request. Daniels demands a promotion, a specialized unit, and the selection of his own detectives to conduct the Sobotka case. Burrell agrees in order to appease Valchek. Daniels' detail proceeds to build a partially successful case against the union, leaving Valchek mollified.
Burrell faces problems with councilman Tommy Carcetti, the head of the public safety subcomittee, and criticism of the department's failure to reduce crime statistics. Burrell is ordered by Mayor Clarence Royce to keep the annual murder rate below 275 and cause a drop of 5% in the felony rate citywide. Royce believes Carcetti will run against him in the forthcoming election and hopes to insulate himself against opponents by campaigning on declining crime statistics.
During the season Burrell worked with Carcetti in order to prevent the department from looking worse at the public safety subcommittee meetings. Carcetti offered Burrell more resources for the department in exchange for inside information on the Royce administration. Burrell accepted the offer as Royce provided little support to the department and forced Burrell to take all the blame for the department's problems. Carcetti continued to criticize the department over issues like witness protection but delivered on his promises to Burrell. Burrell began to see Carcetti as a useful ally in difficult times for the department.
Burrell promoted William Rawls to fill his old position of Deputy Commissioner of Operations. Burrell failed to deliver Lieutenant Cedric Daniels his promised promotion to Major due to political conflicts. Daniels' wife Marla was running for the 11th district council seat where one of Royce's loyalists Eunetta Perkins was serving. This supposedly prevented Burrell from approving the promotion. Burrell does allow Daniels his own Major Crimes Unit and they return to investigating Avon Barksdale.
Burrell and Rawls presided over harrowing weekly comstat meetings where they pressured their district commanders to return the favorable crime rate figures Royce had demanded. As deputy, Rawls is more outspoken in criticizing the district and operational commanders while Burrell steps in to give a final warning or relieve a commander from their post. Burrell first relieved Major Marvin Taylor as the Eastern District Commander and then threatened Western District Commander Major Howard Colvin when felonies rose 2% in his district.
Major Colvin responded by allowing drug dealing to continue unchecked in specific areas and the felony rate dropped. Colvin concealed his strategy from his superiors and they became suspicious of his statistics. Upon learning the truth about Colvin's success, Burrell forced Colvin to take his vacation time immediately. He then informed the Mayor of the sanctioned drug dealing zones. Royce considered sustaining the initiative because of its positive effects. While Royce procrastinated Burrell became convinced the Mayor looked to blame the department directly. Burrell told Royce he would go to the press and tell them that Colvin's initiative was the result extreme pressure from city hall to reduce crime statistics. The threat called into question Royce's chances of re-election and Burrell softened it with an offer to take full responsibility for Colvin's actions provided that Royce made him commissioner for a full term. Burrell leaked the story to Carcetti and the massive media attention forced Royce to accept Burrell's offer.
Burrell had Rawls shut down Colvin's drug tolerant zones soon after the Mayor agreed to his demands. Burrell also had Colvin demoted to lieutenant and forced to retire from the department early with the assistance of loyal Internal Investigations Division commander Major Bobby Reed. Burrell used Colvin as a scapegoat and deflected political fallout from Royce as promised. Colvin complied with Burrell's demands because Burrell threatened to involve the men under Colvin's command in the Western district. Burrell had Colvin humiliated further by personally informing Johns Hopkins University of Colvin's misdeeds and costing him his retirement job with Campus Security.
Daniels' major crimes unit makes a fortuitous arrest (of Avon Barksdale) at the same time as the Colvin scandal allowing Burrell to further divert media attention. Following the arrest, Burrell informs Daniels that his promotion to Major has been approved by city hall. Daniels is given the command of the Western District left open by Colvin's dismissal.
Burrell continued as police Commissioner and remained a key member of Mayor Clarence Royce's inner circle. Royce was outraged when the major crimes unit served subpoenas against key political figures without his knowledge. After a dressing down from the Mayor, Burrell promised to prevent any more surprises from his department. Burrell then asked Deputy Commissioner William Rawls if Detective Jimmy McNulty was responsible for this given his previous acts of insubordination, but Rawls suggested Lester Freamon was behind the subpoenas as McNulty had left the unit. Rawls recommended controlling the subpoenas by "proper supervision" of the unit which involved removing the lenient Lieutenant Jimmy Asher and replacing him with a hostile and caustic commander named Lieutenant Charles Marimow.
When Burrell failed to bring a murdered witness to the Mayor's attention before it became a campaign issue Royce ordered Burrell to downplay the story to the press and take the political fallout on himself. Royce also instructed Burrell to slow the investigation down to suppress information about the motive for the murder surfacing until after the election. Royce wanted to prevent it being proved that the killing was carried out because of the victim's witness status. Burrell ordered Colonel Raymond Foerster to reassign the veteran primary investigator, Ed Norris, and replace him with Kima Greggs, now a rookie homicide detective. This proved to be a mistake as the change of investigators was leaked to the press. Mayor Royce then summoned Burrell and Deputy Commissioner Rawls criticizing Burrell for the problems within his department that allowed the leak. Royce angrily dismissed Burrell only to keep Deputy Rawls after the discussion. Royce admired Rawls' loyal subordination to the chain of command and claimed that he would "not forget" Rawls clearing these incidents up implying that Burrell would lose his commissioner's post following the election. Royce however lost to Tommy Carcetti in the democratic primary election and Burrell managed to keep his commissioner's post.
Once Carcetti was elected he asked Burrell to resign as commissioner. Burrell refused and told Carcetti that he would have to fire him and that if he leaves, he will not go quietly. Carcetti at the same time could not fire Burrell without having ready an African American replacement due to political reasons. Finding a replacement was further complicated by a lack of ranking African American officers in the department besides Burrell. There was only one African American Deputy Commissioner named Hawthorne who was 70 years old and no African American officers over the rank of Colonel. The next highest ranking African Americans in the department were Majors and Shift Lieutenants most of whom such as Major Bobby Reed were loyal to Burrell and his method of policing. Carcetti decided to strip Burrell of his power as commissioner and give all decision making up to Deputy Commissioner Rawls while leaving Burrell as a figurehead for the press and ministers.
Burrell was concerned when Carcetti ordered the promotion of Cedric Daniels to Colonel and Criminal Investigations Division commander. Burrell viewed Daniels as being nothing more than Mayor Carcetti's "Boy" and was afraid that Carcetti planned to make Daniels his replacement. With Daniels' promotion from Major to Colonel after only a short time as Major, Burrell's future in the department appeared to be less and less certain.
Burrell proved himself a valuable political aide to the Mayor in the handling of brutality charges against Officer Thomas "Herc" Hauk. Herc had been accused of racial profiling and police brutality in a car stop involving an African American minister. Burrell recommended the Internal Investigations Division look deep into Herc's file because his time in narcotics would probably show further poor conduct according to his past experiences with narcotics detectives.
Burrell met with State Senator Clay Davis to discuss preventing Daniels from advancing further in the department. Burrell is in possession of FBI information showing Daniels had unexplained income while working in the Eastern District. As the season closed, Burrell warned Rawls never to cross him again as Rawls' own hopes for promotion had been shattered by the political climate necessitating an African American commander.
Burrell continues to serve as Commissioner more than a year into Carcetti's term, and is forced to deal with massive spending cuts despite the Mayor's promises that the BPD would receive more funding. Morale in the department is extremely low as Burrell cuts operating funds as instructed. However, he successfully convinces Carcetti to lift the cap on secondary employment in order to bolster morale. Meanwhile, Clay Davis faces a corruption investigation by the Major Crimes Unit (MCU), and appeals to Burrell for protection. Burrell is unable to do so, as Daniels commands both the CID and the MCU and enjoys a direct connection to Carcetti. Davis angrily threatens Burrell.
Carcetti is leaked a copy of statistics showing an increase in crime by Deputy Commissioner for Administration Stanislaus Valchek. Valchek hopes to usurp Burrell's position as commissioner but Carcetti decides that he will have to accept rising crime given the funding cuts he has imposed. However, Burrell delivers altered statistics to the Mayor despite Carcetti's insistence on clean numbers. Carcetti finally has the political capital he needs to fire Burrell and leaks a story about a potential shake up in the police department to the papers. Burrell is devastated when he reads the story, which relates that Carcetti will promote Rawls to acting commissioner temporarily while Daniels is groomed for the job with a short posting as Deputy Commissioner (Carcetti does not think Valchek is suitable).
Burrell plans to expose Daniels' history of corruption but is talked into leaving quietly by city council president Nerese Campbell. Campbell uses the promise of a lucrative replacement position to mollify Burrell. Burrell agrees to attend a press conference with Carcetti and to allow the transitions in the department to go ahead in order to secure his new job. In a humanizing moment when facing his departure, Burrell revealed his bitterness at having to accommodate interference and schizophrenic policy making from the Mayor's office throughout his career. He warned Rawls that he could expect the same treatment.
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- "Character profile - Acting Police Commissioner Ervin Burrel". HBO. 2004. Retrieved 2006-07-22.
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- Dan Attias (director); Ed Burns (story and teleplay), David Simon (story) (2008-01-27). "Transitions". The Wire. Season 5. Episode 4. HBO.