Top cop Frazier takes charge

January 25, 1994

Baltimore City has a new top cop. Thomas C. Frazier, the mayor's nominee for police commissioner, started his job without any fanfare Friday. The former San Jose (Calif.) deputy chief will work in an acting capacity until a City Council confirmation hearing Feb. 2.

We welcome him to Baltimore, a city he first saw during a one-month training period before being shipped out for military duty in Vietnam. We hope he is a quick study and a resolute decision-maker. The city's crime problem is horrifying, residents are fed up with hopelessness and fear and the police department is ripe for a new direction and strong leadership.

No one expects overnight miracles from the 48-year-old Mr. Frazier. But if he wants to be successful in Baltimore, he has to re-establish the police department quickly as a credible crime-fighting force that earns residents' trust and cooperation.

To a large degree, that is a public relations problem. But even more, it is a management and organizational challenge that requires sober scrutiny of long-time routines and staffing priorities. Practices that once made sense may no longer be appropriate. If so, they have to be altered -- and the reasons explained to the rank-and-file police officers as well as to the general public.

Mr. Frazier will have ample opportunity to explain his law-enforcement philosophy at the confirmation hearing, to be held at 5 p.m. Feb. 2 at City Hall and broadcast live on cable channel 44.

When Mr. Frazier's appointment was announced before Christmas, his selection won wide approval. But he has had his critics, too. A number of black ministers initially took the position that a city with an African American majority should have an African American police commissioner. This resulted in a heated meeting with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who at one point banged his fists on the table in rejecting the ministers' demands. Mayor Schmoke was right. Rejecting Mr. Frazier because he is white would be as egregious as rejecting another candidate because he is black.

Other critics wondered whether Mr. Frazier, coming from California and a totally different kind of city, would have the understanding of Baltimore's crime problems and the underlying social situation that a successful police commissioner needs. This is a valid concern. But it overlooks the crucial fact that while Mr. Frazier gets acquainted with his new environment he will have the considerable expertise of the entire police department at his disposal. Like any chief executive, he will rely on the reporting and recommendations of his staff. And like any successful endeavor, controlling crime in Baltimore will depend not just on strong leadership, but also on a dedicated and competent staff pursuing its mission purposefully.

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