It is midmorning, and Baltimore's police chief is at his desk, scanning a list of items seized in drug raids. He's looking for a lawn mower. And a grill.
A scavenger hunt may not fit the image of Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier and his tough stance on violent crime, but for this self-described "social worker with a gun," it's exactly the image he wants to project.
Obtaining items for the force's youth choir or a neighborhood cleanup, he says, is crucial to the mission of making Baltimore safer.
"A community depends on more from law enforcement than arrests," Mr. Frazier says. "After it is all said and done, it is a quality of life issue, not a law enforcement issue."
Mr. Frazier, 50, has fundamentally altered the 3,000-member department since he signed on a year ago. He inherited an agency viewed by residents as an ineffective crime-fighting force, and marred by internal strife and charges of brutality.
The image-conscious police commissioner from San Jose, Calif., strides about the city in full dress uniform and faces banks of television cameras as easily as he chats with a friend. His changes, he says, have rekindled enthusiasm in officers frustrated by stagnant policies that hurt their efforts to restore order on city streets.
But critics call Mr. Frazier an arrogant leader who stormed into power and made changes without consulting his command staff. As a result, they say, the agency has a deep, nagging morale problem.
Critics charge that his proposed rotation policy already is prompting veteran detectives to leave the vaunted homicide unit -- and that the rate of solving slayings is its lowest in 15 years. And they say the commissioner does not back officers who are locked in controversy.
"I've never seen so much open cynicism for a commissioner, nor such open disrespect for a commissioner before," says Baltimore Circuit Judge John N. Prevas, who gives Mr. Frazier mixed reviews on his first year in office.
"He has brought new ideas to Baltimore that have worked," the judge adds. "He seems to be stubborn where his ideas in Baltimore don't necessarily mesh. I think he penalized some people who didn't need to be penalized, but by the same token, he supported some people who never got support before."
A recognizable leader
Wednesday, a typical day with Mr. Frazier, shows his high-profile, community-oriented style.
He talks to officers at an annual training session, addresses a group of elementary school children about violence, attends a meeting of downtown business leaders and goes to an officer-of-the-year award ceremony in Highlandtown.
He also gives CNN a 20-minute interview on President Clinton's crime bill -- a coveted opportunity to get on national television. "We need to get the department on the map as a leading agency in the country," Mr. Frazier says later.
That attitude contrasts sharply with the style of Edward V. Woods, his predecessor. Mr. Woods retired amid an out-of-control homicide rate, and the situation was made worse by his inability to articulate the department's mission and to assure residents they were being protected.
"It was clear to me that people were frightened," says Mr. Frazier, who favors a uniform instead of suits to give the department a recognizable leader. "I wanted to go out and make a clear statement: Things are going to be different than they were before."
Soon after becoming commissioner, Mr. Frazier launched a series of major drug raids, a tactic differing from previous police sweeps, which had targeted low-level dealers and users. In March, his troops raided the East Barclay-Midway neighborhood a sweep aimed at locking up violent drug offenders and fulfilling his promise to retake the city block by block.
Statistics show that crime decreased by about 35 percent in the months after that raid and after another in Middle East, around Johns Hopkins Hospital, compared with the same periods in 1993.
The raids -- and a harsh winter -- helped reduce crime during his first year on the job. The number of homicides fell from 353 in 1993 to 321. In the first nine months of 1994, the number of shootings plummeted from 1,880 to 1,271.
"I'm surprised he got results as quick as he did," says City Councilman Martin O'Malley. "I didn't really expect that. Shootings are down. Open-air drug markets are being closed down. The whole department seems a little more empowered."
Still, some policies have caused turmoil within the department.
He purged his command staff, eliminating several ranks to streamline the department. Four deputy commissioners and two colonels -- with a combined 221 years of service -- retired.
Mr. Frazier draws high marks for filling depleted investigation units, including the rape squad, which at one time in 1993 had only one detective; for securing more equipment; and for fighting for raises. He also decentralized the department, giving district commanders much more power to run their dominions.