Police finalists: 4 men, 4 styles

December 09, 1993|By Jim Haner and Eric Siegel | Jim Haner and Eric Siegel,Staff Writers

As Baltimore police officers gathered for a cocktail party to bid farewell to outgoing Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods, the air buzzed with news of his possible successor last night.

"It's all anybody is talking about today," said Clint Coleman, spokesman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. "There's a lot of excitement."

Announcing four finalists for the $93,000-a-year job earlier in the day, Mr. Schmoke praised their "wide variety of talents" and said that "all of them have been good police officers."

But the decision will not be an easy one for the mayor. Indeed, the special committee he appointed to sort through 24 applicants for the job has presented him with four very different men.

All are champions of community policing, which puts officers on foot patrol so that they can get a better feel for neighborhood problems, a philosophy Baltimore police have been slow to embrace. But the candidates differ greatly in personal style and management approach.

And two of them come to the city carrying heavy baggage. The other two enjoy sweeping support in the cities where they currently work, but only one has extensive experience policing a big city beleaguered by persistent violent crime.

He is Joe Leake, a 54-year-old father of four and a 32-year veteran of the New York Police Department who worked his way up from patrolman to second in command of Staten Island and the Bronx before being selected last September to head the sprawling 3,000-member Manhattan North district.

One of only three black chiefs in the department, Chief Leake arrived in the uppermost echelon of one of the world's biggest police agencies more than three decades after he quit his job as a barber to attend the police academy, from which he graduated first in his class in 1962.

"You're not talking about an affirmative action wonder here," said Officer Tom Velotti, vice president of the Policemen's Benevolent Association union. "This is a guy who was a very active police officer when he was on the street, an excellent homicide detective and a very smart cop who worked his butt off to get where he is.

"He's done a lot to bring us back in touch with the citizens. And he won't tolerate corruption of any kind -- he's death on that -- and he's a tough disciplinarian, which has not made him the most popular guy with cops who like to slip off for a nap."

Chief Leake has refused repeated requests for interviews, but he told Newsday in October, "Some people see the police department as an esoteric and secretive organization. My job has been to go out and communicate humanness, and I believe that's every police officer's job."

To that end, he has served on a community development board, directed a crackdown on noise pollution and stepped in to mediate turf disputes between merchants and street vendors -- small efforts to make life more livable in his area.

He graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in behavioral science and has received advanced management training at Columbia University. He is described in interviews as soft-spoken, low-key and very private.

In terms of personal style, Tom Frazier could not be much more different. The 48-year-old deputy chief of the San Jose Police Department is a self-described "down-the-pipe" manager who studied under visionary former chief Joseph McNamara, a friend of Mr. Schmoke.

Chief Frazier, too, enjoys firm support in his California city of 800,000 people, where the homicide rate is 85 percent lower than Baltimore's.

A 27-year veteran of the department, the father of three joined it after a tour in Vietnam in the Army. From patrolman, he was quickly selected to work on undercover drug cases before rising into criminal investigations, internal affairs and research. He is now operations boss of the 1,170-member department.

He has also been involved in modernizing the department -- overseeing a new multimillion-dollar computerized 911 emergency center, designing a minority recruitment and promotions plan, and helping to draw up the community policing plan.

"He's the model of the modern police administrator -- by far our most competent deputy chief and one of the most well-known cops on this coast," said Sgt. Michael Fehr, president of the San Jose police union. "And he's a cop's cop. He came up under Joe McNamara, studied under him and understood him. And the training doesn't get any better than that.

Chief Frazier is also the department's point man when conflict flares in the community -- whether a protest by gay activists, an influx of Asian drug gangs or concerns about police services in the black community -- Sergeant Fehr said.

"He's as tough as they come," Sergeant Fehr said. "But he always keeps an open mind. He always listens. And when he makes a decision, things happen."

Chief Frazier said, "We've struggled through a lot of the problems other departments are only now coming to grips with. I was fortunate to be part of that. I learned early on how to get from point A to point B in a hurry."

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