Common sense policing

March 15, 1994

So far, so good. Baltimore's new police commissioner, Thomas C. Frazier, shows signs of being as good a manager as he is a practitioner of public relations.

While he has been attracting public attention at a series of community meetings, he has been sending a private message to his staff. Rather than micro-manage each police district from the glass tower on Fayette Street that is his headquarters, Mr. Frazier is delegating real authority to the neighborhood commanders. He promises to deliver the tools they need to do their jobs. It is up to them to use those tools effectively to reduce the city's horrendous crime rate. Or else.

There are risks here, and Mr. Frazier is too savvy a street cop not to recognize them. One is that the district commanders, appointed by his predecessor, won't respond effectively to the new challenge. Judging from the comments quoted in reporter Jim Haner's article Monday, there is no lack of enthusiasm. But the transition from a highly centralized structure to one with dispersed responsibility is not always easy. The local commanders are a diverse, relatively young but thoroughly experienced group. One or two might stumble, but the odds are most of them will rise to the challenge.

Mr. Frazier may find that his greater problem is delivering on his own promises to his district commanders. Computers, bigger and newer patrol cars (no longer baby blue) and overtime cost money. He may be able to squeeze some savings from his own budget, but to make significant new purchases the commissioner will need more money from City Hall. With a faltering tax base and other demands for more funds, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will have to scramble to enlarge the police budget substantially. But giving Commissioner Frazier the tools his men and women need to do the job should be this city's No. 1 priority.

The commissioner is already demonstrating that his department can do more with what it already has. Simply by reshuffling work schedules, the district commanders are putting more officers on the street at the times of greatest need, rather than splitting them evenly among the three shifts. And they are deploying the patrol forces according to where they are needed, not where the latest high profile crime has occurred. That's common sense policing, which has not been in abundant supply around here for some years.

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