Other cities wooing Frazier Washington, Chicago have tried to hire Baltimore police chief

He says he's not leaving

January 27, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's police chief is suddenly a hot commodity.

Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier has been approached about the police chief's job in Washington and Chicago, and there is speculation about his returning to his hometown of San Jose, Calif., where another opening is coming in March.

But so far, even talk of a signing bonus by officials in Chicago -- which has one of the nation's largest police forces -- hasn't swayed Frazier, who says he does not plan to respond to the overtures.

"When I came here, I made a promise, a commitment, to make this the best big city police department in the country," said Frazier, who has weathered one political storm over race and is under contract until 2002. "That is exactly where we are headed."

A large number of cities are scrambling to find police chiefs, including San Jose, Phoenix, Chicago, Oklahoma City and Washington. Some chiefs retired for different jobs; others were forced out in corruption scandals.

The openings come at a time when law enforcement experts say the pool of qualified police executives is dwindling.

"It is unusual to have so many jobs open at one particular time," said William J. Bratton, the former police commissioner of New York City.

"There just aren't that many qualified candidates who have a track record of turning around a department in trouble."

Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which helps departments look for chiefs and counts Frazier as a member of its board, said the applicant pool is dwindling because many police commanders are taking big money in the private sector.

"People across the country who are getting phone calls from headhunters who are looking for that special kind of manager who can lead a police department in the '90s," Wexler said.

Frazier, said Wexler and other national police leaders interviewed, wins high marks for surviving a dispute last year in which Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke publicly overturned the chief's suspension of a top black deputy in what became a racial uproar.

"He's willing to call things the way they are," said Wexler. "If you want longevity in this business, you don't rock many boats."

The job openings have become the talk of police circles across the country. Frazier has already exceeded the average 2 1/2 -year tenure of a big city chief, a job fraught with political peril.

Hired to make changes

Frazier, an articulate outsider from California, was hired in 1994 to turn around a Baltimore department frustrated by crime and mismanagement. He took command of the 3,200-member force amid criticism of the way the drug war was being waged and facing accusations that officers were indifferent to crime. He has endured a call by the police union for his ouster.

Frazier said he believes he is an attractive candidate because of his accomplishments, including implementing the 311 non-emergency number now being copied in cities across the country.

The commissioner called the interest "flattering. I think it's a reflection of how well recognized the Baltimore Police Department is at the national level."

Frazier, who earns $115,000 a year in Baltimore, would not comment in detail on the job offerings, and confirmed only two: Chicago and Washington. He said he had received calls from several officials in other cities that he would not name.

Chicago, which has a force five times the size of Baltimore's, is advertising the job at $120,000 a year; Superintendent Matt Rodriquez resigned in November. Published reports said Rodriquez was a friend of a convicted felon questioned in decade-old killing of an oil company executive. Frazier said a signing bonus from Chicago was discussed. He would not comment further, other than to say he was not interested.

"My family is here," Frazier said yesterday. "My parents have moved here. Everyone is happy. We've been very well received. The city has been hospitable to all of us, and we feel very much at home here."

Frazier also said he was not interested in Washington, where Chief Larry D. Soulsby resigned in November after it was revealed he shared a luxury apartment with a lieutenant who got a reduced rent for claiming it was part of an undercover operation.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the lieutenant, who is no longer on the force, also pleaded guilty to theft, fraud and extorting money from patrons of a gay bar.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for a chief to make a name for himself in Washington, but it's not a job that I'm interested in," Frazier said. He added, however, that there "are a small handful of positions at the federal level which would merit consideration." He would not elaborate, but said he had been made no offers.

The way to San Jose

Another job for which Frazier's name is repeatedly mentioned is San Jose, where the chief rose in the ranks from patrol to deputy chief and was a candidate for chief before he came to Baltimore.

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