Frazier interviews for post at Justice

City chief could head Clinton program on community policing

August 11, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier has been interviewed for a top Justice Department post, the strongest signal yet that he believes Baltimore's next mayor will want a new police chief.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke confirmed that Frazier interviewed for a job last week with officials in the Justice Department. Sources said he met Friday in Washington with Attorney General Janet Reno or members of her staff.

Sources said Frazier is a candidate to run the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, responsible for allocating funds to reach President Clinton's goal of putting 100,000 more officers on the nation's streets.

"I know that a number of jurisdictions, including the federal government, are very interested in him," Schmoke said.

Among those supporting Frazier is Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who has recommended the commissioner to top Justice officials, sources said.

Frazier has said that he has turned down many job offers, including overtures to head police forces in Washington and Chicago. Critics have played down those statements as grandstanding by a chief eager for attention.

But with Schmoke's term due to expire in December, none of the top candidates for mayor seems inclined to keep Frazier in what is one of the most important and visible jobs in the city administration.

Federal officials denied that an announcement on the Justice Department community policing job is imminent, saying Frazier's name had not been submitted to the president. But Clinton administration officials acknowledged that Frazier's name was among those being prepared for the president's consideration.

Chris Watney, Reno's deputy press secretary, declined to comment yesterday. COPS spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said his office is "in the very beginning stages of a national search" to fill a vacancy created by the recent departure of Director Joseph E. Brann, a friend of Frazier's.

Pfeiffer said officials hope to fill the position very soon. "We haven't set a firm deadline. To say the deal has been cut would be incorrect."

The COPS program was the centerpiece of Clinton's 1992 campaign and was part of the 1994 anti-crime law. It authorized $8.8 billion for grants to police agencies to hire new officers or redeploy current ones for community street work.

It has recently come under fire after an inspector general's report that the program's goals would fall short and that some local departments were using the money to shuffle officers around, instead of hiring new ones.

Frazier has not responded to questions about his future. His chief spokesman, Robert W. Weinhold Jr., said the commissioner will not discuss his personal or professional ambitions. Weinhold would not comment on Frazier's whereabouts on Friday.

Frazier's interview at the Justice Department comes amid mounting speculation in political circles and at police headquarters about Frazier's future in light of Schmoke's decision not to seek another term.

Most of the leading contenders for mayor in Baltimore's Sept. 14 Democratic primary have said that they would replace the commissioner, who has run the department for five years. Though overall crime and murder rates are down this year, candidates have complained about staffing shortages and a homicide rate that has made Baltimore one of the nation's deadliest cities.

Of the leading candidates, Council President Lawrence A. Bell III has called for Frazier's resignation; Councilman Martin O'Malley has feuded with Frazier over the reliability of department statistics; and former Councilman Carl Stokes has said he would make the commissioner reapply for his job along with all other Cabinet members.

Frazier has a high profile nationally as head of the Police Executive Research Foundation, a progressive police policy group made up of reform-minded chiefs. He is frequently in Washington, showing up in the backdrop of Clinton news conferences and other White House events.

Some police commanders have indicated that Frazier is determined to stick it out in Baltimore and force the next mayor to fire him. That might allow him to negotiate a settlement; his $115,000 a year contract runs through 2002.

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