On the job little more than a month, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh came to the Baltimore area yesterday for get-acquainted visits.
At the FBI office in Woodlawn, he took off his jacket and encouraged agents to call him Louie, then shed his one-person entourage and visited the squads, chatting with agents about local cases, urging them to discuss problems in their work and taking lots of notes.
Considering the controversial tenure of former FBI Director William S. Sessions, who was described as more formal in dealing with subordinates, the visit was remarkable, said local agents.
"We were hoping for a great visit, and everybody's expectations have been met," said Special Agent Bruce Ash, supervisor of the Violent Crime Task Force.
"Not to take anything away from his predecessor, he's just a different personality. He asked, 'What can I do to help, what can I do to make your job easier?' "
Mr. Freeh, 43, was sworn in Sept. 1, following Mr. Sessions' firing in July over misuse of the perquisites of the office. The visit marked Mr. Freeh's third to a field office as director, and he said that he hopes to visit all the FBI field offices.
"It's very important to find out the cases being worked, the types of problems they're having, and find out how we can be of more assistance from headquarters," said Mr. Freeh, a former FBI agent, prosecutor and federal judge.
In Baltimore, he visited U.S. Attorney Lynne Battaglia, Chief U.S. District Judge Walter E. Black Jr. and Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods.
"It's a courtesy visit but I also want some input from them about what we could do better," Mr. Freeh said.
Danny O. Coulson, special agent in charge of the local FBI office, met privately with Mr. Freeh for about an hour before the round of visits.
"It was very refreshing," Mr. Coulson said. "His grasp of what the FBI does is incredible. It's almost like talking to a guy who's been the director for 10 years."
"I think he's an innovator," Mr. Coulson said. "He is willing to make changes."
Among Mr. Freeh's challenges is to rethink resources in an era of federal belt-tightening and rising crime rates. At FBI headquarters, he already has eliminated about 100 management positions, and he is considering shifting agents from headquarters to field offices.
Concerning the proposed merger of the FBI with the Drug Enforcement Administration, Mr. Freeh said, "Any consolidation we could do which would make law enforcement more productive is good and I support it."
But he fell short of endorsing the idea, saying that the costs and benefits must be carefully considered.