Police union head is assailed Schmoke, Frazier say call for chief's ouster is attack on City Hall

February 07, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's mayor and police commissioner launched a blistering attack yesterday on the police union president and called demands for the chief's ouster a slick way of using officers to take political shots at City Hall.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke called Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier "one of the best police executives in the country" but said he would meet with the union president because "this bickering has got to end."

The commissioner dismissed the union's criticism of him. "Among the things I was brought here to do was streamline the department and root out corruption," said Frazier, who was hired in 1994 and whose contract runs to 2002. "You can't do that and expect to win a popularity contest in the union hall."

Their remarks were the latest salvo in a three-day war of rhetoric between Frazier and Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, whose members have voted to demand the chief's resignation.

About 40 percent of the 3,200-member force participated in the vote. More than 1,200 -- or 87 percent of those voting -- said Frazier should no longer be chief. They said he lacked a cohesive plan to reduce crime and complained that his internal policies are demoralizing the force.

In an interview yesterday, Frazier said the vote came from a "very vocal minority" of less than half the force. He chastised McLhinney for politicizing the issue.

"The union's legitimate role is to negotiate for salary and benefits," Frazier said. "And what we have is a police officer -- not a sergeant, not a lieutenant, not anyone who has ever supervised anyone -- providing commentary on top-level organization way outside his area of expertise."

Frazier said city residents "could give a hoot if Gary McLhinney hates my guts or we fish together as long as crime is down."

Schmoke, at his weekly news conference, also said the labor organization should refrain from endorsing political candidates. The union endorsed the mayor's challenger in 1995.

"I told them that once you endorse, you are just another political interest group, and you lose your standing as a neutral observer," Schmoke said. "You can't endorse my opponent, call me a coward about crime and then turn around and say, 'Can I have a raise, boss?' "

McLhinney, who denied calling Schmoke a coward, said the mayor and police chief have "chosen to blame the messenger and fail to listen to the message. This is not Gary McLhinney speaking. This is the rank and file speaking."

The union head said the FOP has endorsed candidates for the past decade, like other unions representing city employees. He pointed out that Schmoke accepted $500 campaign contributions from the FOP in 1987 and 1991.

He said it was unfair of Schmoke to link the vote on Frazier to pay raises for officers. He has credited the mayor with interceding in a 13-month labor impasse that was settled last month with officers receiving a 3.5 percent pay raise.

"We're talking about Commissioner Frazier's ability to do the job," McLhinney said. "Who better to do that than the police officers he's supposed to be leading? If they want to ignore the police officers of Baltimore City, that shows me they are not serious about fighting crime and are only giving the public lip service."

Schmoke said he is worried that the spat will undermine public confidence in the city's crime-fighting efforts. He said Frazier needs to concentrate on reducing homicides and addressing concerns of racial discrimination in how officers are disciplined.

The mayor also acknowledged hearing rumors that Frazier's name has been mentioned for a position in the U.S. Justice Department, either working for or replacing Joseph E. Brann, a friend of Frazier's who runs the community policing office. Frazier denied he is looking for another job or that he has been offered one.

Frazier has been in difficulty with a police union before, when he was a young sergeant in the San Jose, Calif., Police Department.

Joe McNamara had been brought in to clean up a corrupt and brutal department in 1976 and faced union opposition. The San Jose police union, fuming over McNamara's heavy-handed reform decrees, demanded his resignation. Frazier stuck by his chief during the turmoil and rose to the rank of deputy chief before coming to Baltimore.

Pub Date: 2/07/97

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