Hit with a barrage of criticism of police indifference and ineffectiveness, Thomas C. Frazier, the nominee to be Baltimore's new police commissioner, pledged at his confirmation hearing last night to crack down on violent crime and open-air drug markets and to personally handle complaints of brutality and corruption.
The hearing before the City Council's Executive Nominations Committee was punctuated by a shouting match on and off the council floor between a black minister upset that a white had been selected to head the Police Department and two black council members.
It also was marked by a moving plea for action by the father of a slain college student whose murder five months ago remains unsolved.
Before and after these occurrences, the 48-year-old former deputy police chief of San Jose, Calif., heard council member after council member say that Baltimore police ignored obvious crimes and allowed violence to occur night after night in poor black neighborhoods.
After the 4 1/2 -hour hearing, Mr. Frazier, who has been serving in an acting capacity since Jan. 21, said, "The depth of the concern didn't surprise me. I have been on the street for more than a week now, and I have heard the same things in the churches, in people's homes, in schools. There has been a lot of agreement between people all over the city. They know what the problems are with their department, and they want them fixed."
During the hearing, Mr. Frazier told the council, "Guns and gun violence are the priorities. That will be our focus -- to get the guns off the street and to get the homicide rate down."
He also promised to drive drug-dealing off street corners and contain it inside buildings where, he noted, the risk of violence, particularly to bystanders, would be "significantly lessened."
"That is a goal which we can and should look toward," he said.
But Mr. Frazier noted that not violating civil rights was more important than taking back corners and said brutality and corruption complaints will be "immediate and personal-attention items."
The council is expected to vote Monday on the nomination of Mr. Frazier, who was selected by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke Dec. 20 after a four-month national search. His confirmation is a virtual certainty.
Mr. Frazier's nomination was attacked by two representatives of the Baptist Ministers Conference, upset that Mr. Schmoke did not choose a black to head the Police Department.
The Rev. John Wright, head of the conference and pastor of First Union Baptist Church in Howard County, said Mr. Frazier was not the most qualified of four finalists for the job, two of whom were black. The Rev. William E. Johnson Sr., pastor of Union Baptist Church in Dundalk, said he was "appalled" that Mr. Frazier had assumed the commissioner's job on an acting basis before last night's hearing and said he was "questioning the political integrity of the city."
Both men promised to make black council members who vote to confirm Mr. Frazier pay at the ballot box in the 1995 elections.
After his statements, Mr. Johnson got into a brief shouting match with Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III, the 4th District Democrat who chaired the hearing. After the hearing, the minister got into a confrontation with Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, also a 4th District Democrat, outside the council chamber. Both Mr. Bell and Ms. Dixon are black.
Mr. Johnson told Ms. Dixon, "There isn't any God in him [Mr. Frazier], and you're going to find that out."
An angry Ms. Dixon shot back, "I wanted a black commissioner as much as you did, but what you did doesn't help anything."
Councilwoman Iris G. Reeves, who tried to intervene in the dispute, said she was upset by the ministers' threats and comments. "We have a level of respect for them that they don't show for us," said the 5th District Democrat, who also is black.
Rodney Orange, head of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said his group would have preferred a black commissioner but said it was prepared to work with Mr. Frazier.
Later, Kenneth Lee, whose son was slain in September in Northeast Baltimore but whose killer has not yet been found, said, "Somebody solve the problem. I'm so despaired. I'm asking for your help."
Earlier in the hearing, Council President Mary Pat Clarke pointedly told Mr. Frazier that citizens saw "blatant" criminal activity and a police department "unable or unwilling" to do anything about it. She demanded to know when she would see drug activities ended at such hot spots as 21st Street and Greenmount Avenue.
Mr. Frazier said he couldn't give a specific date but said, "What my guarantee is is that with the resources I have, you will get the best performance you can."
The litany of criticisms -- made before a packed chamber that included most of the top police brass as well as Mr. Frazier's wife, Deborah -- overshadowed some of Mr. Frazier's specific plans.
These include: revamping the 911 system so that serious calls get answered first; putting more officers on overtime, and changing staffing patterns so that more policemen will work when most crimes occur.
Mr. Frazier said he also favored rotating officers in different jobs to give them broader experience and enhance the credentials of younger black and female officers.
He also defended community policing, a key element of Mr. Schmoke's strategy of dealing with crime, and said a major component of it was to "arrest offenders."
"In my experience, community policing is not soft on crime," he said.