A vote of confidence for Commissioner Frazier

March 27, 1995|By CHARLES INNES

THOMAS C. FRAZIER has been a fine Baltimore City police commissioner, by any measure of citizen contentment or public safety.

Of course, the Fraternal Order of Police, the police union, recently attempted to vilify him for his so-called "demoralizing" policy of rotating officers between districts and job assignments.

On March 14, the union released the results of a survey showing that 75 percent of the officers responding to a poll rated Mr. Frazier's job performance poor or fair. (Of the 2,875 questionnaires mailed out, 1,690 were returned.) Many of the officers who participated in the survey have short memories. The commissioner's great professionalism and managerial expertise have saved these officers a huge amount of grief.

Two years ago, the City Council was demanding that a civilian review board be appointed to deal with citizen complaints about brutality and corruption, which had been ignored by the Internal Investigations Division under former Commissioner Edward V. Woods. By fall of 1993, Mayor Kurt Schmoke had bowed to internal and public protests and removed Mr. Woods.

The mayor then nominated a man with no local political ties, Thomas Frazier, a career professional from San Jose, Calif. The first outsider to run the department in more than a generation.

In January 1994, The Evening Sun published a four-part series highlighting the problems of a Baltimore City Police Department "in decline." Mr. Frazier's confirmation hearing in February 1994 was packed and dramatic. Council President Mary Pat Clarke said: "The crime is in the open on the street corners. If I can see it, why can't you?" The City Council then sent the new commissioner off to headquarters with a mandate to "clean up the mess."

Mr. Frazier gave everyone a chance to perform. Instead of confronting his new soldiers head-on with the integrity and discipline problems, the ever diplomatic commissioner worked gradually for change, including aggressive recruitment from the military and instituting job rotations.

The new commissioner fought the morale battle on behalf of his officers, on many fronts: obtaining better vehicles, fresh uniforms and cleaning up the politicized command structure. He assured the junior officers that promotions would be based on merit. In negotiating a new contract, Mr. Frazier asked only that the police union concede to a policy of assignment rotation, in exchange he agreed to an 8 percent pay increase over two years. Now the irresponsible union wants to renege on its rotation concession.

So, what happened? Undoubtedly, the good old boys down at the union hall are beginning to miss their customary "perks." Here is the unspoken issue, put simply. Rotation makes it difficult for corruption to continue. Protected criminal enterprises, such as gambling joints, don't want new officers on the beat. The policy of rotation is not so much about job versatility, as it is really about minimizing bribery, malfeasance and undue influence. Rotation is a very practical policy and most law enforcement agencies worth the name have it.

Nevertheless, the union has continued to scream and complain that the commissioner has not taken the side of his patrolmen. For example, the manslaughter case of officer Shean D. Camper was a point of contention. Mr. Camper was found not guilty by a jury on March 14; Mr. Frazier's silence on the matter did not appear to hurt Mr. Camper.

Police union concerns aside, Baltimore citizens appear to like their new commissioner. Mr. Frazier has put a lot of fresh new faces on their streets and, more importantly, cleaned up many awesomely terrible high-crime areas. His first year has been relatively free of controversy.

History has some good lessons for us about the related politics and economics of policing. For example, when the National Association of Chiefs of Police president O. W. Wilson was asked to take charge of the somewhat corrupt Chicago police, he demanded, as a condition, that Mayor Richard Daley give his rank and file police officers an immediate pay raise. Mr. Wilson reasoned that if he took graft income away from his cops, they would miss mortgage payments and lose their houses. The only fair thing to do under the circumstances was to give them more money. Mr. Wilson was a great commissioner, and I think Thomas Frazier will be too.

Charles Innes writes from Baltimore.

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