Chief asks for up to 200 more officers Police must have help to make sizable cut in crime, mayor told

February 19, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's police commissioner is calling on the mayor to hire up to 200 more officers, saying "worsening crime conditions" and limited funds have hampered his ability to make "dramatic cuts in violent crime and homicides."

In a blunt eight-page open letter to the community titled "Blueprint for Change," Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier praised his department for a 10 percent drop in crime last year but said the pace is frustratingly slow. He challenged city leaders to help him.

"We will be bolder in our own thinking and actions to achieve the change," Frazier wrote. "And, because we simply cannot do it BTC alone, we will be bolder in asking for what we need from the city's leadership, from the criminal justice system and from you."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is aware of Frazier's proposal, but he and his police chief have not discussed specifics -- or where the funds would come from. "It would take a significant source of revenue to hire more officers," said the mayor's spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman. "I don't know of a mayor who wouldn't like to hire more police."

Frazier has endured weeks of turmoil over his crime-fighting techniques and his reluctance to copy New York's style of so-called zero-tolerance policing, which he says requires hundreds of additional officers. The police union and City Councilman Martin O'Malley have demanded his ouster, saying he has failed to present a clear strategy to reduce violence.

O'Malley asserted yesterday that the department can do a better job without hiring new officers.

The letter marks the first time since Frazier was hired three years ago that he has asked to bolster his force of 3,200 officers. He has concentrated instead on moving 300 desk-bound officers to street patrol and reducing by half the 225 officers who called in sick each day.

The chief said he would have been irresponsible to ask for more officers before trying other ways of increasing the size of his crime-fighting force.

"Now, it would be irresponsible for me to do anything else," he wrote. "Common sense and solid recent evidence points to the addition of officers as an important key to significant crime reductions.

"Every member of this department is just as frustrated as you are with the pace of our progress on crime," the chief wrote. "We want to break away from incremental gains to achieve dramatic cuts in violent crime and homicides. Worsening crime conditions and limited city revenues have hampered our ability to do that."

Sam Ringgold, a police spokesman, said the exact number of officers Frazier wants to hire hasn't been determined, but he said 200 is being discussed. That would cost more than $10 million.

Where the money for additional hires would come from hasn't been decided either. "That's one of the issues for the city leaders," Ringgold said. "For the city leaders calling for zero tolerance, they are going to have to make some decisions."

Last month, 4th District Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr.'s proposal to increase the piggyback income tax rate by 2 percent to hire more officers and expand the state's attorney's office failed.

Frazier wrote a letter to citizens last year in which he ordered his officers to concentrate on seizing guns and targeting violent cocaine and heroin dealers rather than arresting addicts carrying small amounts of drugs.

His new treatise on crime includes calls for an expansion of existing programs, such as the Police Athletic League, which has 24 centers serving 5,000 children and teens, and more block representatives to encourage residents to help law enforcement.

Frazier also wants to quicken drug investigations by targeting the estimated 100 small but violent cocaine and heroin gangs. Additional teams of officers will hit "hot spots" of concentrated crime.

While crime dropped 10 percent last year, and the number of shootings has dropped more than 30 percent since 1993, the city's homicide rate continues to rise, undermining notions that Baltimore has gotten safer.

Critics have made frequent comparisons with New York, where violent crime and slayings have plummeted -- widely attributed to zero-tolerance policing and the hiring of thousands more police officers.

O'Malley said that he is pleased with some of the chief's ideas, such as targeting "hot spots," but that reforms similar to New York's can be made without more hires.

"I don't think it's that's simple," O'Malley said.

The councilman added that Frazier is issuing confusing signals by sending out teams of officers to hit drug corners while at the same time ordering them not to seek out addicts. "[Those seem] to be the guys standing in your hot spot," he said.

But Frazier maintains that moving toward zero-tolerance policing requires more resources.

He said of New York's experience: "Combined with dramatic justice system changes and strong managerial measures to turn around an underperforming NYPD, this infusion [of more officers] has resulted in major decline in crime and improved quality-of-life.

"If we want an all-out battle to significantly shift our city's crime situation, one part of the solution is more officers."

Frazier once again called for help from other areas in the criminal justice system, particularly in the courts and prosecutor's office. "Funneling more arrests through a system built to handle yesterday's caseload won't work," he wrote. "The rest of the system must join the battle."

Pub Date: 2/19/97

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