Police chief promises 'visibility'

December 21, 1993|By Eric Siegel and Michael James | Eric Siegel and Michael James,Staff Writers

Thomas C. Frazier -- the no-nonsense, forward-thinking administrator named yesterday to be Baltimore's new police commissioner -- promised no quick solutions to the city's drug and murder problems but pledged to be "highly visible" to both residents and police officers.

"Especially when you come in from the outside, I think people have to see you and hear you and make their own evaluations," Mr. Frazier said in an interview yesterday. "The community has to understand that you will change an organization if it needs to be changed based on feedback from them. The officers need to realize that you understand their problems."

"It's hard for me to prejudge what the crime rate will be next year," added Mr. Frazier, the deputy chief of operations for the San Jose, Calif., Police Department. "But what you can expect is for me to have been in your neighborhood, for you to have had a chance to tell me what you think the problems are and what you think the solutions are. And you will see us work with you to try to achieve solutions."

The appointment of Mr. Frazier, 48, was announced yesterday by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke at a morning news conference and will become effective Jan. 30, subject to confirmation by the Baltimore City Council.

Mr. Schmoke, who chose the 27-year veteran of the San Jose Police Department over three other finalists chosen by a search committee from a field of more than 80 candidates, praised Mr. Frazier's experience, sensitivity and ability to communicate.

"In Tom Frazier, we are getting the right man for the right time, a person who really understands policing and community concerns and someone who can also talk effectively with people, whether it's on the streets or in the suites," the mayor said.

Mr. Frazier, who succeeds Edward V. Woods, will initially earn $106,000 a year, $13,000 more than the job was advertised for, and Mr. Schmoke said he will seek a raise in the salary to $115,000 in July.

If confirmed by the council, as expected, Mr. Frazier would become Baltimore's first commissioner from outside the city in nearly 30 years.

Mr. Frazier, one of two whites among the four finalists, would also become the city's first white police chief since Frank J. Battaglia retired in June 1985.

Mr. Schmoke said that "race was not a factor" in his decision.

"I consulted with a lot of people in this city. And the overwhelming majority said that race was not an issue. Everyone in Baltimore shares concerns about safety and safe schools," the mayor said.

"What I did do, I considered that whoever we selected would be able to be perceived as a sensitive and caring leader by everybody in the city. That came across very strongly in my discussions with Mr. Frazier," the mayor added.

Mr. Frazier's appointment drew wide support yesterday from black and white police and community leaders, and elected officials.

"We've heard nothing but good things about him," said Leander S. "Buddy" Nevin, head of the local Fraternal Order of Police Lodge, the union that represents the city's approximately 3,000 uniformed officers.

Det. Henry Martin, president of the Vanguard Justice Society, which represents black officers who make up about 30 percent of the city's force, said Mr. Frazier appears "to come highly regarded and respected" and said he was not bothered that the new commissioner is white.

"If the search committee went out there looking for the best man for the job, we have no problem with that. We respect the search process," Detective Martin said.

Rodney Orange, president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said his organization "did not have any preference as far as gender or race" of the new commissioner, adding "Our concern is that someone can tackle our problems."

Councilman Lawrence A. Bell, D-4th, whose district includes some of the city's highest crime areas, said, "I think people are looking for someone who can do the job, whether they're white or black." Mr. Bell, who chairs both the council's public safety and executive appointments committees, said a hearing would he held on Mr. Frazier's appointment in early January.

His 4th District colleague, Sheila Dixon, head of the council's African-American Coalition, said she was "somewhat disappointed" Mr. Schmoke didn't choose a black commissioner. a city that's 65 percent African-American, I think it's better to reflect who you serve. But I'm open as far as looking at his credentials," she said.

In San Jose, Mr. Frazier, a Vietnam veteran and father of three, rose through the ranks from patrolman to undercover narcotics investigator to head of the criminal investigations, internal affairs and research divisions.

A California native who holds a master's degree in public administration, he oversaw the installation of a new computerized 911 emergency center and designed and implemented the community policing plan for the department, which includes about 1,200 sworn officers.

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