Police will be a major focus of city's '95 elections

February 10, 1994|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

When it comes to the Baltimore Police Department, politicians and political observers agree on two things.

The first is that the widespread problems in the Police Department -- the subject of a four-part series in The Sun that concluded yesterday -- will be a major focus of the 1995 city elections.

The second is that it is in everyone's interest that the new police commissioner, Thomas C. Frazier, succeed in reducing the city's rising crime rate.

"One of the reasons I decided to run [for mayor] in 1995 is my concern about the public safety situation," said City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who announced her candidacy last September, just days before Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he would seek a third term.

"In the City Council, we had sounded many of an alarm in detail. We talked about the effect of the [hiring] freeze; we argued about taking money out of the Police Department to make up deficits in other departments. The City Council has been on top of this issue for at least two full years," Ms. Clarke said yesterday.

Ms. Clarke said she and the council are prepared to "pull together and support" Mr. Frazier, who was confirmed unanimously Monday night, but added, "We're going to keep the pressure on. Part of the pressure is that I'm going to be there in 1995."

Mr. Schmoke expressed confidence that Mr. Frazier would be able to solve the problems in the Police Department and indirectly defended his emphasis on national policies, which was described as an "excuse for inaction" in one of the articles.

"I don't think there is a crisis in the Police Department. There are problems that can be solved. I believe this commissioner is the right man to solve the problems and provide the necessary leadership," Mr. Schmoke said through his spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman.

"I hope no one is of the impression that improving the Police Department by itself is the answer to all of our crime problems. We need to do our best to aid the Police Department, but changes must come too at the state and national levels if we are to have real peace in our communities," the mayor added.

Even some political supporters of Mr. Schmoke say an enormous amount rests on the ability of Mr. Frazier to revive the Police Department and address problems of poor allocation of officers and low morale detailed in The Sun's series.

"Everyone's looking at Frazier in a light that will make a difference for the mayor. He's going to make or break this administration," said Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, the former head of the council's African-American Coalition and a frequent supporter of the mayor.

Council Vice President Vera P. Hall, D-5th, the mayor's floor leader, bristled at an observation reported in one of the articles. The observation, attributed to many individuals within the department, was that the mayor has seemed to be passionless about fighting crime.

"There's never been any doubt that the mayor is not as frustrated or concerned about crime as any citizen in Baltimore," Ms. Hall declared.

Ms. Hall defended Mr. Schmoke's decision to impose a hiring freeze on the Police Department in 1991 as "his only choice" in the face of massive cuts in state aid. The mayor deserves credit for pushing for community policing and hiring a new police commissioner, Ms. Hall said.

"I don't think the public will ever know what the mayor went through in finding and putting in place a new commissioner," Ms. Hall said.

Ms. Hall declined to elaborate. But Ms. Dixon and Rodney A. Orange, head of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, say Mr. Schmoke faced enormous pressure from local ministers to select former Commissioner Edward V. Woods to head the Police Department -- and to keep him in office.

Mr. Orange said some of the criticism directed at Mr. Schmoke by The Sun's series "may have been too harsh" but added, "The mayor understands in the final analysis that 'the buck stops here.' "

Council critics of Mr. Schmoke's record on public safety were less forgiving.

"Until this most recent appointment [of Mr. Frazier], I think the mayor's done a pretty poor job of managing this Police Department," said Councilman Martin O'Malley, D-3rd. Last spring, Mr. O'Malley screamed at police officials during a council hearing. Mr. O'Malley urged the police officials to use overtime to add more foot patrol officers.

And Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III, D-4th, who raised questions about Mr. Woods' effectiveness more than a year ago, said pointedly, "I'm hopeful the administration will be receptive now to constructive criticism coming from all directions."

Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., D-1st, generally regarded as being neither in nor out of Mr. Schmoke's camp, said Mr. Frazier "has a year and a half to turn things around -- which we all will benefit from, all elected officials."

But Mr. Schmoke stands to benefit from a potential turn-around most of all. "If it turns around, he'll have no problem getting re-elected," Mr. D'Adamo predicted. And if it doesn't? "He's definitely in trouble, election-year."

Others believe that no matter what Mr. Frazier does, public safety issues will dominate next year's elections. "Crime will be the major focus in the next election," said State Sen. John A. Pica Jr., the head of the city's Senate delegation.

"It's an issue he'll have to battle with," Mr. Pica said of Mr. Schmoke. "That's the pitfall of being an incumbent. There's a record that exists."

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