Critics forget Frazier's support of black officers

August 11, 1999|By Gregory Kane

WHAT A CROP of mayoral candidates. Here we have a bunch of folks who have admitted that, if elected mayor, they would fire the best police commissioner this city has had. And in a year that crime has dramatically dropped, no less. That would be the much maligned Thomas C. Frazier, who came to Baltimore with two strikes against him (he is white and male) and, within a few years, was being held accountable for the sins of at least five previous police commissioners. For years, qualified black officers had been passed over for promotion. For years, there had been disparity in discipline between white and black officers. All of a sudden, this pathetic state of affairs became Frazier's fault.

Sitting in a chair of the conference room of police headquarters Monday afternoon, Frazier seemed at ease and in control as he reflected on the "Dump the commissioner" mentality that seems to be running rampant among mayoral candidates.

"I don't mind being responsible for remedying it," Frazier said of his department's malady. "But I'll be damned if I'm gonna be responsible for causing it." Another knock against Frazier from his detractors is that although he didn't cause the department's problems, he has done nothing to solve them either. Mayoral candidate Mary W. Conaway, the city's register of wills, said as much on Sun columnist Dan Rodricks' "Breakfast With Rodricks" show Sunday.

"She doesn't know what she's talking about," Frazier said, acknowledging that he's getting a little ruffled with critics who don't bother to check the facts. In response to a Community Relations Commission recommendation that the department remedy the problem of the disparity in discipline, Frazier implemented a "discipline matrix" two years ago. The policy means that Maj. Odis L. Sistrunk Jr., head of human resources, reviews all disciplinary cases to be sure that the same discipline is meted out for the same offenses, regardless of race.

Sistrunk, a 31-year veteran, joined the force when Donald Pomerleau was commissioner. He's been through the regimes of Frank J. Battaglia, Bishop Robinson, Edward J. Tilghman and Edward V. Woods.

"I haven't worked with any commissioner who's worked as hard to promote blacks as Frazier," Sistrunk said. Robert W. Weinhold Jr., the department's director of public affairs, provided the data to back up Sistrunk's claim.

In July 1984, only 9 percent of the department's lieutenants were black. That increased to about 11 percent in July 1994 -- seven months into Frazier's tenure -- and rose to 12 percent as of August 1998. The department was less than 20 percent black in July 1984. The African-American percentage rose to just under 35 in July 1994 and hovered around 38 as of August 1998.

In July 1994, the department had 62 black sergeants. This time last year, there were 94. There were only four black female sergeants when Frazier took over. Now there are 19. Perhaps the greatest diversity has occurred in the homicide department, as a direct result, Frazier insists, of his rotation policy.

There were only six black homicide detectives on the force when Frazier arrived. Today, 25 black men, one black woman, two white women and one Asian man are in homicide, for a minority total of 29 out of 77 active detectives. "If you don't believe in rotation, you don't believe in diversity," Frazier said, adding that instituting a rotation policy allowed him to break up the "good old boy network" that had been entrenched within the department for years.

Frazier refuses to budge from his position on rotation. And for all the predictions of how rotation would disastrously affect the homicide unit, Frazier wants critics to know that rotation hasn't affected, one iota, the clearance rate, which stands at 70.4 percent. The rate was 70.1 for 1993 and 67.6 for 1994.

It is Frazier's stubborn belief in what will and will not work that fuels his disdain for the concept of "zero-tolerance" policing, which has been advocated by a couple of the candidates, who say it worked in New York City.

"It's clear to me from the New York City experience and watching the I.I.D. [Internal Investigation Division] complaints rise that zero-tolerance is a walk down the primrose path to civil disorder and a violation of civil rights. I won't do it."

It's to his credit he won't. If we're to take some of our candidates seriously, they would give Frazier the boot, only to replace him with a latter-day version of Heinrich Himmler, head of Nazi Germany's notorious SS. Talk about the cure being worse than the disease.

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