Bickering crime fighters Zero tolerance: Genuine progress too often obscured by petty quarreling.

October 11, 1997

THE CHASTISING tone of a progress report on zero tolerance police tactics was totally predictable. It was issued by a Baltimore City Council committee chaired by Martin O'Malley, whose crime-fighting philosophy differs sharply from that of Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier. Yet there is more common ground than you might expect.

The police chief is doing a lot of what Mr. O'Malley wants, but Mr. Frazier refuses to call it "zero tolerance," the term Mr. O'Malley imported from New York. Although Mr. O'Malley will admit the commissioner has made progress, he downplays that and instead talks about what still needs doing.

Their relationship is comparable to the one between Mr. Frazier and the Fraternal Order of Police. It seems that no matter what the commissioner does, FOP Lodge 3 President Gary McLhinney is ready with criticism.

The announcement this week that 22 suspended officers facing disciplinary hearings for nonserious violations were being put back to work didn't please Mr. McLhinney. He said the officers were "embarrassed" by having to sit down while their cases were reviewed.

Yet the entire city was embarrassed to find out officers accused of domestic violence and excessive force were on the streets, fully armed. Police powers weren't restored to 13 officers facing the most serious charges. Rather than remarking about the passing embarrassment of a few, it might have been more appropriate for Mr. McLhinney to condemn inappropriate behavior by any officer.

As for Mr. O'Malley, his report notes not just a reduction in crime in Baltimore, but a reduction in the time it takes to process a prisoner at Central Booking, the introduction of a New York-like crime data collection system called "Crimestac," a new arraignment court with a circuit judge, a 90 percent increase in city funding for drug treatment and interest by downtown business leaders in establishing a community court to speed misdemeanor prosecutions.

Yet he pessimisticly labels all of the progress made as "modest" and "disjointed." Mr. O'Malley is right to be concerned about what hasn't been done -- including placement of a district judge at Central Booking to expedite arraignments. But achieving the remaining goals might be easier if he, Mr. Frazier and others fighting crime would stop fighting each other.

Pub Date: 10/11/97

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