Ervin H. Burrell is a fictional character on the HBO drama The Wire, played by 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.
|Ervin H. Burrell|
|First appearance||"The Target" (2002)|
|Last appearance||"Transitions" (2008)|
|Created by||David Simon|
|Portrayed by||Frankie Faison|
|Occupation||Mayoral crime committee advisor|
Burrell is a careerist who believes in the Baltimore Police Department's chain of command and stores knowledge of corrupt activities by his subordinates to maintain his authority. He is a statistical bureaucrat who cares more about reducing crime on paper than building strong cases. Burrell 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 constantly engages in conflict with the city's politicians, some of whom blame him for the department's problems.
A Deputy Commissioner at the start of season 1, Burrell has ambitions to be promoted to Commissioner, a post held by Warren Frazier. Burrell's primary responsibility is to ensure that Frazier's directives are obeyed throughout the BPD. He consistently shows more interest in making good headlines rather than good cases.
When D'Angelo Barksdale beats a murder charge by buying off a witness, Burrell faces criticism from Judge Phelan over the BPD's failure to investigate D'Angelo's uncle Avon. 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 off 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 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 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 with the shooting of Detective Kima Greggs. The 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 payphones — effectively nullifying the 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 of corruption from Daniels' days in the Eastern District's Drug Enforcement Unit. Daniels calls Burrell's bluff and says he is 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. He also learns about Jimmy McNulty's disclosure of 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 Mayor Clarence Royce and most of the city's African-American political leaders, Burrell's appointment to Commissioner is made a certainty. Major Stanislaus Valchek, a Southeastern District commander with political connections, offers Burrell support from the dissenting 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 investigation, so 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. 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 subcommittee, and criticism of the BPD's failure to reduce crime statistics. He is ordered by Royce to keep the annual murder rate below 275 and cause a 5% decrease in felonies citywide. Royce believes Carcetti will run against him and hopes to insulate himself against opponents by campaigning on declining crime rates. Burrell works with Carcetti in order to prevent the BPD from looking worse at the public safety subcommittee meetings. Carcetti offers Burrell more resources in exchange for inside information about Royce. Burrell accepts the offer. as Royce provides little support to the BPD and forces Burrell to take all the blame for the department's problems. Carcetti continues to criticize the BPD over issues like witness protection but delivers on his promises to Burrell, who comes to see the councilman as an ally.
Burrell promotes Major William Rawls to fill his old position of Deputy Commissioner of Operations, but fails to deliver Daniels his promised promotion due to political conflicts involving Daniels' wife Marla is running for a council seat against Royce loyalist Eunetta Perkins. Burrell does allow Daniels his own Major Crimes Unit and they return to investigating Avon Barksdale. Meanwhile, Burrell and Rawls preside over weekly COMSTAT meetings where they pressure BPD district commanders to return the favorable crime rate figures that are demanded by Royce. Burrell relieves Major Marvin Taylor as Eastern District Commander and threatened Western District Commander Major Howard "Bunny" Colvin when felonies rise 2% in his district.
Colvin responds by allowing drug dealing to continue unchecked in specific areas, causing the felony rate drops. Colvin conceals his strategy from his superiors and they become suspicious of his statistics. Upon learning the truth about Colvin's success, Burrell forces Colvin to take his vacation time immediately and informs Royce of the sanctioned drug dealing zones. Royce considers sustaining the initiative because of its positive effects. When Royce shows signs of blaming the department, Burrell threatens to go to the press and blame City Hall for the potential fiasco. Burrell then softens his tone with an offer to take full responsibility for Colvin's actions provided that Royce makes him Commissioner for a full term. Burrell leaks the story to Carcetti, and the massive media attention forces Royce to accept Burrell's offer.
Burrell has Rawls shut down Colvin's drug-tolerant zones soon after Royce caves to his demands. He also demotes Colvin to Lieutenant and forces him to retire early with the assistance of Internal Investigations Division commander Major Bobby Reed. Colvin complies with Burrell's demands because Burrell threatens to involve the men under Colvin's command. Burrell humiliates Colvin further by informing Johns Hopkins University of his misdeeds and costing him his retirement job with Campus Security. Elsewhere, Daniels' Major Crimes Unit arrests Avon Barksdale just as the Colvin scandal hits, allowing Burrell to further divert media attention. Following the arrest, Burrell gives Daniels his promotion to Major, and Daniels takes Colvin's post as commander of the Western District.
Burrell is a key member of Royce's inner circle. Royce is outraged when the MCU begins serving subpoenas against key political figures without his knowledge. After a dressing down from Royce, Burrell promises to prevent any more surprises from his department. Burrell and Rawls agree to control the subpoenas by "proper supervision" of the MCU. This involves removing the lenient Lieutenant Jimmy Asher and replacing him with the hostile Lieutenant Charles Marimow.
After Burrell fails to bring a murdered witness to Royce's attention before it becomes a campaign issue, the Mayor orders Burrell to downplay the story to the press and take the political fallout on himself. Royce also instructs Burrell to slow the investigation down until after the election to prevent it being proved that the victim was a protected witness. Burrell orders Foerster to assign Greggs, now a rookie homicide detective, to the case. When the change in investigators is leaked to the press, Royce reprimands Burrell and implies to Rawls that he will be made Commissioner after the Mayor wins the Democratic primary. However, Royce loses to Carcetti, allowing Burrell to keep his job.
When Carcetti asks Burrell to resign, he tells the new Mayor that he would have to fire him and would not go quietly. Unable to find a suitable African-American replacement for Commissioner, Carcetti decides to strip Burrell of his power as and give all decision making to Rawls, while leaving Burrell as a figurehead for the press and ministers. Burrell gets concerned when Carcetti orders the promotion of Daniels to Colonel and Criminal Investigations Division commander. Burrell is afraid that Carcetti plans 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 becomes bleak.
Burrell proves himself a valuable political aide to Carcetti in the handling of racial profiling allegations against Herc, tricked by Bubbles into stopping a car driven by a black minister. He recommends the IID look deep into Herc's file because his time in Narcotics would probably show further poor conduct. Burrell also meets with Davis to discuss preventing Daniels from advancing further in the BPD, discussing Burrell's possession of FBI information regarding Daniels' unexplained income in the Eastern District. Burrell warns Rawls never to cross him again, as Rawls' own hopes for promotion have been dashed by the political climate.
More than a year into Carcetti's term, Burrell is forced to deal with massive budget cuts despite the Mayor's pledge to improve funding for the BPD. However, he successfully convinces Carcetti to lift the cap on secondary employment in order to bolster morale. Meanwhile, Davis faces a corruption investigation by the MCU, and appeals to Burrell for protection. Burrell is unable to do so, as Daniels commands both the MCU and the CID and is linked with Carcetti. Davis angrily threatens Burrell.
Valchek leaks increased crime statistics to Carcetti, hoping to usurp Burrell's position. However, Carcetti decides to accept rising crime as a consequence of his budget cuts. However, Burrell delivers altered statistics to Carcetti, despite the Mayor'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 BPD. Burrell is devastated when he reads the story, which relates that Carcetti will promote Rawls to temporary Acting Commissioner while Daniels is groomed for Deputy Commissioner. Burrell plans to expose Daniels' alleged corruption, but is talked into leaving quietly by city council president Nerese Campbell with the promise of a lucrative replacement position. Burrell agrees to attend a press conference with Carcetti and to allow the transitions to go ahead in order to secure his new job. In a humanizing moment when facing his departure, Burrell reveals his bitterness at having to accommodate interference and policy-making from City Hall throughout his career. He warns 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.