Shaking up city police

April 06, 1994

Thomas C. Frazier was brought to Baltimore as police commissioner because the department needs a shaking up. Many high- and low-ranking members of the department agree. lTC One of the ways a leader awakens a moribund organization is to move people around, especially those who have been doing the same work for years, even decades.

That is what Mr. Frazier is doing by gradually transferring key supervisors and members of special squads. Some of them have done exemplary work. The transfers don't reflect badly on them. The moves reflect the need to rejuvenate a department that has suffered from a lack of strong leadership and often settles for lackluster performance.

There are risks involved in moving seasoned investigators who know their jobs thoroughly and do them well. They will, in many cases, be replaced by less experienced officers who will take some time acquiring the same expertise. And the experts in one area of police investigation will have to become adept at another. There are a lot of first-class officers in the Baltimore City police department who may not have been working up to their potential. Presented with new challenges, they will master them. Whatever transitional problems may arise will be more than offset by the greater effectiveness of the department in the long run.

But it's also true that there are some malingerers, some who got desirable assignments through favoritism and some who became too comfortable doing the same thing for years. One of Mr. Frazier's first concerns on taking over was the department's high turnover, particularly in officers just reaching their prime. One of the reasons many of these officers quit was lack of opportunity to get the kind of assignments that lead to promotion. That's what happens when the most desirable jobs are held by the same people for years.

In choosing the long view, Mr. Frazier is taking some chances. He sees his job as rebuilding the department. That doesn't happen overnight. A spurt in the city's staggering homicide rate would arm the critics who are already sniping from the sidelines. But that was one of the department's most glaring shortcomings in recent years: sacrificing the quality of overall police work in order to concentrate on the crimes that attract the most public (and therefore political) attention.

Mr. Frazier is wisely going for the long-term improvements the department sorely needs. Forcing him to focus on short-term fixes would sell the department short.

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