Officers cheer as Frazier warns of tough changes

March 01, 1994|By Jim Haner and Michael James | Jim Haner and Michael James,Sun Staff Writers

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier addressed rank-and-file officers for the first time last night -- giving them a dose of tough talk that drew nothing but cheers.

"You will see fair and impartial investigations of complaints" against officers, he said, his voice booming in the cavernous auditorium of the Poly-Western high school complex.

"And you will also see accountability for people who step out of line. We're going to send a message that it's just not worth it. People who do not get the message will have to find work elsewhere."

With about 100 officers in the audience, the commissioner paced the front of the hall with a microphone in his hand, announcing changes and fielding questions on matters nearest and dearest to the hearts of front-line officers.

He said he was "appalled" at the run-down condition of district station houses and squad cars -- which he called "nothing but a bucket of bolts" -- and vowed to improve them.

In the next year, he said, officers will start to see computer terminals in cars to speed up background checks on suspects and vehicles. And the color of the cars will change from powder blue to white.

For that alone, he received applause from the officers, who complained that the cars present a "soft" image that invites disrespect in the toughest neighborhoods.

"For a long time we've been operating with nothing but a blue light over our heads and radio on our hips," Officer Philip Goertz said. "He's going to change all that."

Judging by the response he received at the school, Mr. Frazier -- who was sworn in yesterday morning as the first out-of-town commissioner in more than three decades -- impressed others as well.

Whether the subject was disciplinary procedures, pay raises or his controversial rotation policy that will force most officers into new jobs every three years, Mr. Frazier's message was that a new age is dawning.

No longer will officers spend an average of 49 minutes writing up reports on routine calls to the same problem households and neighborhoods, he said. No longer will drug users and petty dealers be the targets of investigators, who rack up hours of overtime pay processing meaningless arrests, he said.

"We're going to spend more time arresting dealers and less time arresting addicts," he said. "If there's a recurrent problem

somewhere that's eating up a lot of officer time, we're going to send as many officers as we need to take care of it the first time."

On the rotation policy, he said: "The problem I see with the department right now is that people have been allowed to work the same jobs forever. When I look at an officer's resume and I see that he's been a sex crimes investigator, then a sex crimes sergeant, then a sex crimes lieutenant, what do I got?

"I got a guy who's really good at sex crimes who might not know how to write a traffic citation."

'Not a popular policy'

Mr. Frazier told the officers that everyone would be included in the rotation plan -- including ranking officers and members of such elite units as mounted patrol and homicide -- as he moves to expand training and make room for younger officers to advance in the department.

"My goal is to develop the best leaders and officers that I can and to provide opportunities for you that you might not otherwise have. . . . I might have to move captains. I might have to move lieutenants," he said.

Said Lt. Wendell M. France, a 24-year veteran of the Northern District: "The rotation policy was one of the biggest concerns at the meeting tonight. It's not a popular policy to officers in specialized units who have been there for years, although I think he will have support from some of the patrol officers."

Earlier in the day, in a City Hall chamber rippling with laughter and optimism, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke swore in the veteran policeman from San Jose, Calif.

The new chief's 5-year-old daughter hugged her father and rubbed the gold buttons on his new blue uniform.

"The department is already feeling better about itself because he's there," the mayor said to applause from police commanders gathered in the room. "The community is beginning to feel better about itself."

'A family man'

As the mayor spoke, Alexandra Frazier grinned at the television cameras and pointed up at her father -- eliciting laughter from the grown-ups in the room.

"And my next line was that he's a family man," the mayor said. "I got the message, baby."

With that, the mayor administered the oath of office. Mr. Frazier vowed to "take back the corners" from the drug dealers and gangs that have driven the city's homicide rate to new highs and have placed Baltimore among the nation's five deadliest cities.

"We have hit the ground running inside the Baltimore Police Department," he said. "We can, in fact, take back the territory, make the neighborhoods safe and work together with the community . . . to make Baltimore City a safer place to live and work and visit and to raise your family."

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