One Police Commissioner Is All That Baltimore Needs

April 26, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

This is about four men with the last names of Schmoke, Frazier, Daniel and France. It's about four men for whom I have the utmost respect, three of whom work for a police department for which I have the utmost respect.

But they all need to hear this, so here goes: Who the hell is police commissioner in Baltimore, anyway?

Until this past week, I thought it was one Thomas Frazier. This past Wednesday Frazier suspended Col. Ron Daniel for suggesting, according to news reports, that the commissioner was insensitive on racial matters and might have to be booted out of office.

Those of us who served in the military and still have funny notions about how the chain of command should operate know such talk smacks of insubordination. Frazier nailed Daniel for it -- and rightly so.

Many criticized Daniel's suspension, one of them Eastern District commander Maj. Wendell France. Daniel and France are two damned good cops. One of them, maybe even both, might be commissioner one day. They need to ask themselves now how they would handle one of their commanders, or a group of their officers, suggesting they should be fired.

But after the Daniel suspension, one Mayor Kurt Schmoke enters the fray, lifting the suspension, undermining the commissioner and giving aid and comfort to members of the Vanguard Justice Society and the Fraternal Order of Police that they have the power to -- if not influence the ouster of a police commissioner -- then to, at the very least, have his decisions revoked.

The Vanguard Justice Society is an organization of black police officers formed to fight discrimination in hiring and promotions of African-Americans. It has a right, indeed an imperative, to exist. The FOP is the union for police officers. It, too, should exist, because police officers should have the same rights and protections in their jobs as other workers.

But Vanguard exists to address the needs and concerns of its constituency, as does the FOP. As long as those needs and concerns don't conflict with those of the people of Baltimore, there's no problem. But the mayor and police commissioner are supposed to work for all of us. It is they, not the Vanguard and the FOP, who are supposed to look after our needs and concerns.

So Schmoke, as the city's leader and guardian of our needs and concerns, had two options in the Frazier-Daniel fracas. One was to back the commissioner to the hilt, saying he would support Frazier's decision and have no further comment. The other option would be to say that Frazier was wrong and to fire him. That meeting yesterday and the subsequent news conference that suggested everybody just needed to cool off was so much well-orchestrated slinging of bat guano.

Because the damage has been done. Schmoke has totally undermined Frazier's authority as commissioner. Frazier can't take any action without a fear that the mayor might revoke it. Officers inclined to be insubordinate now have the knowledge that their mayor might let them off the hook.

Frankly, I don't know why Frazier would want to continue to work for Schmoke. I don't know why Frazier didn't just tell Hizzoner, "Daniel stays suspended. Accept that or accept my resignation."

Schmoke's intervention in this matter may be his worst move since he's taken office. He's given the appearance that he's abandoned his police commissioner and knuckled under to the Vanguard Justice Society. Should Frazier quit or be fired, who in this country would want to take a job as police commissioner in this city? No one. Potential candidates would tell Baltimore to let Vanguard and the FOP select police commissioners from now on, because they are the ones who seem to have the power.

Police commissioners are, by definition, not selected to win popularity contests among their rank and file. Frazier's critics contend he has made bad move after bad move since he arrived three years ago. His admirers will say he hasn't. But he's still the commissioner. For the rank and file to criticize him is one thing. To actively promote his firing, that's quite another.

City police officers have been grousing about their leadership and the poor morale in the department since at least the days of Frazier's predecessor, Ed Woods. Now they're complaining about Frazier. What does it take to restore morale to this department -- Jesus Christ himself descending from the heavens to take over leadership?

There is indeed only one police commissioner in this city. And the last I checked, his last name wasn't Schmoke or Daniel or France.

Pub Date: 4/26/97

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