Chief vows to overhaul police force

February 09, 1994|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,Sun Staff Writer

Thomas C. Frazier, Baltimore's new police chief, promised yesterday reforms to revive the troubled department -- including creating an intelligence unit, beefing up street patrols and adding investigators to the depleted sex-crimes unit.

"Patrol is the point of battle," he said at a morning news conference less than 12 hours after he was confirmed in an 18-0 vote by the City Council.

"You will see me more in this uniform than you ever will in a coat and a tie," he said, pointing his new blue serge jacket with the eight shiny stars of the police commissioner on its shoulders.

In the first public response from a ranking city official to a series in The Sun this week about departmental problems, Mr. Frazier said,"There are facts in there that disturb me. There are some changes that clearly need to be made, and I will make them.

"I had a good deal of that information prior to that series of articles coming out. What disturbs me to a certain extent is that I think it overlooks the good work done by hundreds and hundreds of conscientious law enforcement officers every single day.

"But I'm always open to constructive criticism."

Mr. Frazier said he was surprised to learn from the newspaper series that the department's sex-crimes unit had one investigator working last year to handle the city's hundreds of sexual assaults and rapes -- and that the unit's full complement is only four detectives.

"As I understand it, the way that those resources are distributed is inadequate, and one of the first things that I will do is to make sure that unit is able to respond effectively to sexual assault crimes," he said.

Mr. Frazier said he is still studying the department's organizational structure to prepare for a major shake-up. But he said that some of his top priorities will be:

* Creating a major intelligence unit to gather information on gangs, drug organizations and intrastate criminal groups, and to target them for undercover investigations.

"The narcotics distribution network -- although perhaps not a gang in the traditional Hispanic gang or Blood and Crip model -- basically operates in the same way," he said. "There's leadership. There's violence. There's a criminal cartel. And those will be investigated in an organized way."

In San Jose, Calif., where he was deputy police chief before coming to Baltimore, Mr. Frazier helped create a gang unit that is widely credited with driving Asian and Hispanic drug gangs out of the central California city and with stemming a rash of violent robberies and assaults.

* Revamping the department's 911 system to speed up service and cull "nuisance reports," which constitute about 25 percent of the emergency calls. The system now operates largely on handwritten dispatch orders that further slow down calls for service.

In San Jose, Mr. Frazier oversaw the installation of a multimillion-dollar 911 system that allowed the department to police a city that has twice the area of Baltimore with half the number of officers and turned the department into a magnet for computer companies looking to test new technology.

* Shifting the Baltimore department's drug enforcement efforts toward investigating large-scale and violence-prone organizations -- and away from the current practice of arresting street-level dealers and drug users. That practice clogs the courts, eats up police time and produces few meaningful sentences, according to The Sun's series.

Taking into account population, the department currently arrests more small-time drug users than any other major city in the nation except Atlanta. That fills the courts with more drug cases than all other felony cases combined and results in prison sentences for only 5 percent of those arrested.

* Moving the department's internal investigations unit into his office to speed up the disciplining of wayward officers and to increase accountability to the public and to district commanders.

The Sun's series revealed that disciplinary proceedings against officers are sometimes delayed for a year or more.

District commanders have complained that the slow and uncertain internal justice system has led to a breakdown in discipline and the rise of petty corruption.

In San Jose, Mr. Frazier, then a sergeant, was among a handful of internal affairs investigators who orchestrated a 1976 crackdown that led to the resignation, retirement or firing of about 60 officers at the start of a decade-long reform movement.

* Instituting a departmentwide rotation policy that will force officers to change jobs every three to six years.

That policy is designed to expand officers' experience and to create opportunities for minorities and women in the department, where plum assignments often have been handed out on the basis of friendships and connections.

That measure may prove to be the most politically unpopular of Mr. Frazier's initiatives.

At his confirmation hearing last week, he was grilled about the rotation plan by City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who urged him to consider before ordering the transfers "the many good and able officers" who have served in their jobs for years.

Mr. Frazier acknowledged that the move could prompt some veteran officers to retire.

Yesterday, he reaffirmed his intention to rotate everyone -- even homicide detectives. He said that one or two of those investigators can expect to be replaced every other month until the entire complement of 48 investigators has been rotated to new jobs over the next six years.

"We have a lot of energy in the department looking for leadership," the new commissioner said.

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