The Wire
The Wire

Ervin Burrell is the former commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department. He served as acting commissioner until Mayor Royce appointed him to a full term in 2004. He was removed from office by Mayor Carcetti after altering city crime statistics.



Burrell is a careerist and statistics-minded bureaucrat who cares more about reducing crime on paper than building strong cases. Burrell is conscious of the media coverage of his department and is very sensitive to the newspaper headlines concerning its progress. He struggles to direct the department to make an adequate impact on crime reduction and is constantly engaged in conflict with the city's politicians, some of whom blame him directly for the department's problems.

By 2002, Burrell was Deputy Commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department to Commissioner Frazier.

Season 1

Burrell was contacted by Judge Phelan to inquire about the department's failure to investigate West Baltimore drug kingpin Avon Barksdale. Phelan was concerned that Avon's nephew D'Angelo Barksdale had been able to use witness tampering to secure a not guilty verdict in a homicide trial. Burrell instructed majors Rawls and Foerster to compile Homicide and Narcotics briefings on Barksdale by the following morning. The next day, after reviewing the briefings, Burrell instructed Cedric Daniels to perform a perfunctory investigation to placate the judge, devoid of dialed number recorders, Kel recorders, or Title III wiretaps. ("The Target")

When the detail investigated cash flow from the Barksdale Organization to local politicians, Burrell realized the political implications. He was also incensed to discover that the prolonged investigation had set up Title III wiretaps. The detail seized Barksdale money being carried by a state senator's driver causing Burrell to intervene. Burrell ordered Daniels to return the money to avoid embarrassing the senator concerned, Clay Davis.

Burrell ordered the detail to perform an undercover operation which resulted in the shooting of Detective Kima Greggs. The high profile shooting prompted more involvement from commissioner Frazier. Frazier and Burrell's main concern was sending a message to the community that the police department remained strong by seizing a large amount of narcotics. In retaliation for the shooting, Burrell insisted that Daniels' detail raid the Barksdales' main stash house, an act which caused the Barksdale organization to stop using pay phones altogether - effectively nullifying the detail's wiretaps. Burrell also bribed Detective Ellis Carver with a sergeant promotion to feed him information from inside the detail.

To force Daniels to meet his demands, Burrell threatened 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 turned the threat back on Burrell by telling Burrell that he was ready to take charges of corruption to cause bad headlines for Burrell. Daniels stated that he would continue to pursue the case until the court ordered wire taps were down. When the Barksdale case ended, Burrell reassigned Daniels to evidence control as punishment for defying and threatening him. Burrell also learns that a detective from the detail, Jimmy McNulty, had been leaking information to the judge and approves his reassignment to the marine unit as punishment.

Season 2

With Commissioner Warren Frazier's retirement, Burrell was the department's most qualified candidate and was named Acting Commissioner. 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, was on good terms with all of the first district's key figures. Valchek offered Burrell support from the first district in exchange for providing an investigative detail to pursue a case against Frank Sobotka. Sobotka was an International Brotherhood of Stevedores union leader whom Valchek suspected of smuggling through the docks.[1]

Burrell gave Valchek a squad of six detectives under the proviso that newly promoted Criminal Investigations Division Colonel William Rawls would pick the men. The detail was to have six weeks to build a case against Sobotka and his union. Burrell used the same tactics that he had with Cedric Daniels on the Barksdale investigation - influencing the shift commanders to give their worst detectives to the detail as Burrell did not personally value the investigation.

Valchek was disappointed when he saw the ineffective detectives at work and furious when he heard through his son-in-law, Detective Roland Pryzbylewski, that Burrell had interfered with the Barksdale investigation. Valchek angrily demanded better officers to lead the investigation threatening to derail Burrell's quest for commissioner for noncompliance. Valchek specifically demanded Daniels to lead the investigation. Daniels was considering retirement from the department following his reassignment to evidence control.

Burrell attempted to convince Daniels to stay with the department and Daniels realized that Burrell was doing so at Valchek's request. Daniels demanded a promotion, a specialized unit, and selection of his own detectives to conduct the case and Burrell agreed in order to appease Valchek. Daniels' detail built a partially successful case and Valchek was mollified.

Season 3

Burrell faces problems with councilman Tommy Carcetti the head of the public safety subcommittee and criticism of the department 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 campaigning on crime statistics.

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.

Season 4

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 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 Thomas 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.[2][3]

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 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. 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.

Season 5

Burrell continues to serve as Mayor Tommy Carcetti's police commissioner more than a year into his term and is forced to deal with massive spending cuts despite the Mayor's promises that the department would see a new day with more funding. Burrell is once again working amiably with Deputy Commissioner for Operations William Rawls. Morale in the department is extremely low and while Burrell cuts operating funds as instructed he successfully convinces the Mayor to lift the cap on secondary employment to bolster morale.[4][5]

Senator Clay Davis faces a corruption investigation by the major crimes unit (MCU) and appeals to Burrell for protection. Burrell is unable to protect Davis this time because Cedric Daniels commands the criminal investigations division which includes the MCU and Burrell does not feel able to order Daniels to obstruct the investigation because of his connection to Carcetti. Davis angrily threatens Burrell when Burrell refuses his request. ("Unconfirmed Reports")

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 initially). ("Not for Attribution")

Burrell intended to expose Daniels's corrupt background but is talked into leaving quietly by City Council President Nerese Campbell who mollifies Burrell with the promise of a lucrative replacement position. Burrell acquiesced and to attended a press conference with Carcetti to show support for the departmental transition of power. Burrell revealed his bitterness to Rawls at having to accommodate haphazard policymaking and stifling bureaucracy within the department and in the Office of the Mayor. He warned Rawls that he should expect the same treatment. ("Transitions")



Season 1
"The Target" "The Detail" "The Buys" "Old Cases" "The Pager"
"The Wire" "One Arrest" "Lessons" "Game Day" "The Cost"
"The Hunt" "Cleaning Up" "Sentencing"
Season 2
"Ebb Tide" "Collateral Damage" "Hot Shots" "Hard Cases" "Undertow"
"All Prologue" "Backwash" "Duck and Cover" "Stray Rounds" "Storm Warnings"
"Bad Dreams" "Port in a Storm"
Season 3
"Time after Time" "All Due Respect" "Dead Soldiers" "Amsterdam" "Straight and True"
"Homecoming" "Back Burners" "Moral Midgetry" "Slapstick" "Reformation"
"Middle Ground" "Mission Accomplished"
Season 4
"Boys of Summer" "Soft Eyes" "Home Rooms" "Refugees" "Alliances"
"Margin of Error" "Unto Others" "Corner Boys" "Know Your Place" "Misgivings"
"A New Day" "That's Got His Own" "Final Grades"
Season 5
"More with Less" "Unconfirmed Reports" "Not for Attribution" "Transitions" "React Quotes"
"The Dickensian Aspect" "Took" "Clarifications" "Late Editions" "-30-"


  1. Dan Kois (2004). Everything you were afraid to ask about "The Wire". Retrieved on 2006-07-12.
  2. Character profile - Acting Police Commissioner Ervin Burrel. HBO (2004). Retrieved on 2006-07-22.
  3. Org Chart - The Law. HBO (2004). Retrieved on 2006-07-22.
  4. "More with Less". Joe Chappelle, Writ. David Simon (story and teleplay), Ed Burns (story). The Wire. HBO. 2008-01-06. No. 1, season 5.
  5. The Wire episode guide - episode 51 More with Less. HBO (2008). Retrieved on 2008-01-22.