Frazier Takes Charge

June 05, 1994

There has long been a consensus inside and outside the Baltimore Police Department that it needed a shakeup. That's why Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke brought Thomas C. Frazier here as police commissioner. And that's just what Mr. Frazier is doing. He said he wanted fewer officers manning desks and more patrolling the streets. He said there were too many officers who have been doing the same thing for too long, barring others from getting necessary experience. One way to accomplish both goals is to strip out whole layers of command bureaucracy, leaving money and slots for bread-and-butter police work.

Mr. Frazier came to Baltimore knowing he has to produce. Large parts of the city are poisoned by the drug culture. Someone is murdered almost every day. Too often they are children and other innocent bystanders. Drug-peddling punks control whole neighborhoods, whose law-abiding residents fear to leave their homes or let their children play too close to windows. Other neighborhoods that were until recently sanctuaries for the middle class are invaded by thugs who beat, rob and wantonly shoot victims. Once in a while they hit a citizen so exemplary that the murder is front-page news, but the harsh fact is that peaceful citizens all over the city live in fear. Mr. Frazier knows his mandate is to reduce violent crime, and quickly.

One way to accomplish that goal is with major sweeps of drug-infested neighborhoods, followed by clean-up crews and enhanced patrolling, as in the area near Greenmount and North Avenues last March. Less devastated neighborhoods get more officers routinely on their streets at the times and places they are most needed.

Another tactic is to bring the police department under the commissioner's direct control. It's his neck (and perhaps the mayor's) if he fails to lift the department from the doldrums created by past bungling leadership. By wiping out the second level of command, the deputy commissioners, and the second level within the district commands, he has narrowed the gap between himself and the officer on the street. Now he will deal with unit commanders through one layer of subordinates, and those commanders will directly supervise their shift lieutenants. That's a change in command style.

Mr. Frazier is demonstrating that his frequent wearing of a uniform -- unusual among recent Baltimore police commissioners -- is not just showmanship. He's a cop, not a paper-shuffler or time-server. By tightening the command structure, as well as some previous controversial personnel moves, Mr. Frazier is effectively saying, "The buck stops here." With his own team in place, the new commissioner is the man in charge.

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