Frazier calls talent drain disgusting

March 17, 1994|By Michael James | Michael James,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier told a squad of his troops yesterday that he was "disgusted" to learn that 248 officers left the department last year -- apparently because of foundering morale.

"We've been doing exit interviews, and I asked one officer, 'Where are you going?' and 'What are you going to do?' He just said to me, 'I don't know. But I'm getting out of here,' " Mr. Frazier said during a speech to about 30 officers at the Southern District roll call.

"We trained 278 officers last year, and we lost 248. That tells me there's something wrong," he said. "It tells me there's a lack of opportunity here. It tells me that our promise to allow you to grow personally and professionally wasn't met. It tells me we've got to do something different."

Not all of the 248 officers who left the department came from the pool of trainees. Many were retirees or experienced officers who moved to other police agencies.

The commissioner -- who pledged to improve working conditions -- said a certain amount of turnover is expected as officers retire or choose other careers. But he noted that the turnover rate of nearly 10 percent in Baltimore compared with a 1 1/2 percent rate at his prior police department, in San Jose, Calif.

Next month alone, the city will lose 27 officers to Baltimore County's Police Department, Mr. Frazier said.

"Frankly, it disgusts me that we're the training center for the whole state of Maryland. That offends me. I have to provide some other kinds of opportunities and some other avenues of personal growth, or we're going to continue to lose officers," he said.

The commissioner got an inkling of why morale is low as Southern District officers described problems they face in their daily routine. Officers told of frustrations ranging from the color of their uniform shirts to an overwhelming workload.

One of the biggest problems, two officers said, is the drudgery of making numerous arrests -- including many that aren't effectively prosecuted.

"Everybody you lock up says to you, 'I'll be out before you've finished your paperwork.' And nine times out of 10, they're absolutely right," one of the officers in the crowd said.

Others complained about increasing violence among juveniles -- "They're carrying bigger guns now than the adults," one officer said -- and of lenient treatment by the juvenile justice system.

They also complained about having to spend too much time on petty crimes that are supposed to be handled by a telephone reporting unit.

Officer David L. Williams, a 25-year veteran assigned to the Pigtown area, told the commissioner that officers are being subjected to danger because of their white uniform shirts.

Recently, as a barricaded gunman held a woman and two children hostage, "we stood out like targets waiting to be shot at," Officer Williams said.

"We need a dark shirt, and we ought to get rid of these ties," he said. "It's not a tie that makes you a police officer. It's not a hat or a badge. It's what's inside that makes you a police officer."

Mr. Frazier said he agreed about the white shirts. "They're gone," he said.

Officer Darlee Justice, a 14-year veteran, said one of the commissioner's highest priorities should be to clear out lazy officers.

"There are a lot of cops who are out there busting their butts. Then we've got other people who are doing nothing but wasting time all day," she said.

Mr. Frazier told the officers that changes are coming, including improvements in the telephone reporting unit and a rotation policy that will give patrol officers a chance to work in more elite units.

"I've got an open-door policy, and any of you can call my secretary and she'll set you up to come in and have coffee with me for 15 minutes," he said. "I want to hear from you."

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