FOP lodge seeks ouster of police commissioner Leaders request meeting with mayor, who backs Frazier

February 05, 1997|By Peter Hermann and Jason LaCanfora | Peter Hermann and Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

The union representing Baltimore police officers is calling for the immediate ouster of Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, charging that he has failed to put forth a clear strategy to fight violent crime.

Coming on the eve of the police chief's third anniversary, the vote by the 3,000-member union marks the first time it has demanded a commissioner's resignation since the labor organization was founded three decades ago.

Eighty-seven percent of the 1,400 members who responded to a one-question survey sent by mail in November demanded Frazier's removal, leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police said yesterday. They said they want a meeting with the mayor, who said yesterday he supported his commissioner.

Officer Gary McLhinney, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 who often has been at odds with the police chief, said officers welcomed Frazier when he arrived. But that has changed, he said.

"What we got was tired, old ideas," the union president said yesterday. "Under Commissioner Frazier, our mission has not focused on fighting crime, but on public relations. We have crime-fighting strategies and policies that change almost daily."

Frazier was not available for comment yesterday, but his office released a brief statement saying he was "not surprised" by the vote, which he said is tainted because of aggressive lobbying by the union leadership.

"While the FOP under the leadership of Officer Gary McLhinney continues to play politics and take every available opportunity to criticize this police department, I will continue to focus on efforts to reduce crime in our city," the statement said.

The statement said the vote was triggered by frustrations over a 13-month contract impasse, which ended last month, and by continuing opposition by officers to the chief's rotation policy -- temporarily on hold -- in which he would move officers to different jobs every four years.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who enthusiastically hired Frazier three years ago from San Jose, Calif., where he was deputy police chief, reiterated his support for him and gave no indication of how seriously he would take the vote.

"I think that now we have reached a contract agreement with the FOP and the commissioner has announced his intention to reconsider rotation policy, his relationship with the FOP will improve in the next few weeks," Schmoke said.

In February 1994, Frazier took over a department regarded as an ineffective force besieged by complaints of corruption and indifference to inner-city crime.

Residents and officers greeted him with hopeful enthusiasm.

But McLhinney, who plans to discuss the vote at a news conference this morning, listed numerous complaints about Frazier yesterday, many taken from survey response cards filled out by officers.

They include charges that Frazier wasted money hiring consultants from California, misrepresented the number of officers moved from desk duty to street patrol, failed to boost flagging morale, has not addressed racial discrimination complaints and has lost the respect of many commanding officers.

McLhinney cited Frazier's concentration on seizing guns instead of small amounts of drugs and his reluctance to start zero-tolerance policing as evidence that he is out of touch.

"The police commissioner does not have the same ideas on fighting crime that the average police officer or the average citizen does," he said. "I don't think you can find a citizen in Baltimore to say it is safer now than it was three years ago."

The survey asked FOP members, "Do you believe that Thomas Frazier should be removed from his position as police commissioner of Baltimore City?" In addition to checking a "yes" or "no" box, officers could anonymously write comments.

"I can't remember when morale has been so low or nonexistent," one wrote. "Complacency is the name of the game now."

Another wrote: "He is the worst police commissioner I have ever seen in over 20 years with the department. A total disgrace."

But Frazier had some supporters, such as one who wrote: "I believe the commissioner is doing a fair job. Wish mayor would let him run the department."

Another officer took a shot at McLhinney, saying the problem stems from the union's opposition to Schmoke. "Consider removing FOP president," the officer wrote.

Only five of 15 police officers approached yesterday would comment. Most would not give their names.

Sgt. Francis Sedlak Jr. of Northeastern District said he was disappointed that less than half the officers responded. "What concerns me most is the apathy, more so than not supporting the commissioner," Sedlak said.

Sgt. Frank Wagner, also of Northeastern District, said he was not surprised by the vote.

"I think there's a lot of apathy combined with poor morale," the sergeant said. "There's a genuine feeling as well that perhaps the commissioner isn't as supportive as the general public would like to think he is with police."

But Wagner, a 17-year veteran, said he doesn't believe anything will come from the vote.

"The man is still our police commissioner," he said. "We are sworn to uphold the law and support our leadership."

Pub Date: 2/05/97

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