Frazier taking key Justice post in Washington

Police commissioner winds up five years heading city force

Outspoken on reforms

September 24, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, an outspoken outsider hired to reduce crime and restore confidence in the city's police force, is to be named head of a top Justice Department program today.

Clinton administration sources said a formal announcement is scheduled for this morning.

Frazier will become the director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which is responsible for allocating money to reach President Clinton's goal of placing 100,000 more officers on the nation's streets.

Officials in Washington and Baltimore would not comment publicly on Frazier's appointment, and details such as his departure date or starting date on his new job were not available.

Frazier, who declined to comment yesterday, had been expected to leave by the end of the year. Each nominee for mayor had said recently that, if elected, he would appoint a new police chief on taking office in December.

The news was met with mixed reaction in Baltimore. Some lamented the loss of a man Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has called "the best police commissioner in the country," while others said it offers new opportunities to make the city safer.

Councilman Martin O'Malley, the Democratic nominee for mayor and a frequent critic of Frazier, took a shot at the outgoing commissioner and his confrontational style that angered many in local government.

"Sic semper tyrannis," O'Malley quipped. The phrase is Latin for "Thus always to tyrants."

David F. Tufaro, the Republican nominee for mayor, said Frazier's new job "should benefit Baltimore by having a friend in Washington." He said he wants to meet with Frazier to discuss the success of various programs.

Schmoke declined to comment.

The commissioner, 54, was hired five years ago from the San Jose, Calif., Police Department to turn around a department viewed as incapable of ending a wave of violence and years of record homicide numbers that prompted the removal of his predecessor, Edward V. Woods.

Despite criticisms and controversies, Frazier lasted longer than most big-city police chiefs -- the average is less than three years, according to studies by police chief associations -- to become one of the longest-serving commissioners in the department's 200-year history.

"He took a major city police department that had fallen from the national scene and in a very short period of time had begun to turn it back into a national model," said Sheldon F. Greenberg, head of the Police Executive Leadership Program at the Johns Hopkins University.

"Five or six years ago, folks from Baltimore were calling everywhere trying to figure what to do," he said. "Now, police departments are calling here."

Frazier fought his critics over everything from internal racial strife to his policy of rotating officers from job to job, which brought him condemnation from the police union.

"We've never seen eye to eye in what's best for the Police Department," said Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 3. "Now it's time for us as an agency to move forward and concentrate on making Baltimore a safer place to live."

With Frazier's departure, the union head added, "Morale just improved 100 percent."

O'Malley had several brushes with Frazier and once accused him of a "massive hoax on the city" for inflating crime reduction figures. Frazier resisted calls by O'Malley to implement so-called "zero-tolerance" policing, saying the strategy backfired in New York, where the department is saddled with complaints of brutality and discrimination.

Although crime and homicides dropped under Frazier's tenure, the declines were not as dramatic or as quick as in other cities.

Community support

Community leaders interviewed last night said they were sorry to see Frazier go. "I think he's been good for Baltimore," said Lucille Gorham, director of Middle East Community Organization. "Officers used to harass people, but they don't any more."

Jean Yarborough, president of the Park Heights Networking Community Council, said Frazier inherited many problems.

"I personally do not think that Frazier did an awful job," she said. "I think the city of Baltimore has a lot to overcome. We as a community have got to look at ourselves. We have got to find a way to combat some of the things that are happening in our community."

U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia said Frazier brought increased professionalism and "did a tremendous amount to increase cooperation between law enforcement agencies. It's a tremendous legacy."

Frazier, who called himself a "social worker with a gun," took Baltimore by storm. He shucked the traditional suit and tie of a commissioner for a uniform, rode around in a marked squad car and made so many appearances on television that he was quickly dubbed "TV Tom."

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