Baltimore City's New Top Cop


By selecting Thomas C. Frazier, an outsider from California, to be Baltimore's new top cop, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday signaled to the general public as well as to the police department that major changes are in order.

This is what Mr. Frazier promised yesterday. He pledged that his two top priorities will be re-examining the department's personnel allocation and instituting community policing in Baltimore.

What these fancy words mean is that the man who currently is San Jose's deputy chief will scrutinize the number of officers assigned to various parts of the city each 24-hour period, their patrol priorities and routines. He will also analyze complex labor issues, including hiring and promotion criteria and policies concerning officers' modified duty and off-duty obligations.

"It is time to look at how the department is organized and allocated," said Mr. Frazier, 48, in an interview. He promised to hire new officers "in the spirit of service and not in the spirit of adventure."

Under Mr. Frazier, changes are likely to come gradually. For one thing, he knows next to nothing about Baltimore -- outside of having spent one month in training at Fort Holabird before being shipped out for military duty in Vietnam. More fundamentally, he seems to be a man who understands that changes take time. He says that full implementation of community policing, for example, will take between five and eight years.

San Jose has slightly more residents than Baltimore living in an area nearly twice as large. While San Jose has many of the same crime problems as Baltimore, its police department is smaller -- 1,170 sworn officers against 2,967 here.

Like Baltimore, much of San Jose's police activity is generated by 911 calls. But the fast-growing California city (11th largest in the nation) has gone to great lengths to prioritize police response. According to Mr. Frazier, 44 percent of the 911 complaints are now handled on the telephone and do not involve sending an officer to investigate. "That frees patrol time," Mr. Frazier said.

"A local police department has to deal with problems on the street," he said. "I think we have a responsibility to take people who are a danger to others off the street."

Mr. Frazier comes to Baltimore at a time when the nation's law enforcement is being reviewed at all levels. The $2 million the city received yesterday from the Clinton administration reflects heightened public concern about crime. Meanwhile, high-tech innovations at the state's central booking and detention center now under construction on the Fallsway promise to simplify paperwork, freeing city police officers for duty on the streets. This is an opportune moment to re-examine and strengthen Baltimore's public safety operation.

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