Eastern District commander to retire France considered for state position

November 22, 1997|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

The popular commander of the Baltimore Police Department's most violent district announced his retirement from the force yesterday, effective Dec. 15.

The departure of Maj. Wendell M. France, 45, comes just months after the Eastern District commander publicly criticized Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier for suspending the department's highest-ranking black officer.

But France, a 27-year veteran of the force, said his decision to leave had nothing to do with the racially charged dispute.

"The commissioner and I have a good working relationship," France said. "I hate leaving East Baltimore, but it's time for me to move on."

France is being considered for a position with the state department of public safety. The department is searching for someone to oversee the booking function of the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center.

"We're very seriously considering him and have discussed an offer, but nothing has been put in writing," said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

France joined the force in 1970 and worked his way up through the ranks, becoming commander of the Eastern District, one of the city's nine police districts, in August 1996.

Frazier praised France's tough policing style yesterday.

"I'm very sorry to see Major France go. He's a terrific leader," Frazier said. The police chief said he has not decided who will replace France.

This year 57 homicides and 210 shootings have occurred in the Eastern District, a 4-square-mile area that encompasses Johns Hopkins Hospital and one of the state's largest correctional facilities. Last year, 66 homicides and 304 shootings occurred in the area, city police records show.

Under France's command, the Eastern District embraced community policing. France redeployed some of his officers and ordered his patrols to

be more aggressive and to reclaim street corners from drug dealers so residents could venture outside without fear.

In an effort to shut down open-air drug markets, France invited federal drug agents into the district to work with local police in an investigation that resulted in 81 arrests. He also instituted an innovative program aimed at reducing violent crime in East Baltimore.

The Child Development Community Policing program counsels children who are exposed to violent crime in an attempt to break the cycle that transforms young victims into adult criminals. The only program of its kind in Baltimore, it couples therapists at Johns Hopkins Hospital's East Baltimore Mental Health Partnership with veteran street officers.

Community leaders lauded France's initiatives.

"We're very sad to see Major France go," said state Del. Hattie N. Harrison, a longtime East Baltimore political leader. "When he took over the district, he said if we worked with him, there would be improvement. And he's lived up to his word. Major France has made the streets of East Baltimore much safer."

The Rev. Anthony Johnson, pastor of Mount Hebron Baptist Church in Clifton Park, said that under France's command, young people felt safer.

"They realize the police are not out to harass them, but to help them," he said.

Johnson said he knows young people feel safer because his phone has stopped ringing in the middle of the night.

Pub Date: 11/22/97

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