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Spotlight on Tom Frazier


At his confirmation hearing Wednesday night, Baltimore's Police Commissioner-designate Thomas C. Frazier got an earful.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke wanted to get a fixed date by which he would clear open-air drug markets at street corners.

Kenneth Lee wanted to know when the police would arrest the killer of his 21-year-old son, a computer science student, who was slain in September.

Councilwoman Sheila Dixon wanted to know whether the city's new top cop was "a spiritual person."

"Yes," replied Mr. Frazier. But the Rev. William Donald Johnson Sr., upset over the selection of a white man in a predominantly black city, told Ms. Dixon, "There isn't any God in him, and you're going to find that out."

Since Mr. Frazier had conducted a series of private meetings with council members and had already taken over the police department as the acting commissioner, Wednesday's confirmation hearing was little more than a formality to satisfy the appointment rules. But if nothing else, it underscored the emotional desperation with which many Baltimoreans view their city's descent into random violence.

Mr. Frazier, a 48-year-old former deputy police chief of San Jose, Calif., pledged to do his best to return order to the city and to a police agency which has been badly mismanaged over the years. But in mostly laconic answers, he refrained from raising too many hopes or making too many firm promises that might be difficult to keep.

"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 said.

As to combating narcotics and the attendant turf wars, "the goal is to force drug activity back inside."

As the hearing progressed, Mr. Frazier increasingly came across as an unemotional man of sparse words who was given ample opportunities for sound bites but did not bite.

At the same time, he impressed us as a focused manager who knows how difficult it will be to turn around a troubled police department such as Baltimore's. He seems committed to flexibility, noting "our first plan is a 30-day plan, our long plan is a 90-day plan."

Baltimore's police department now needs a total overhaul in every area, from staffing patterns to crime-fighting procedures. We take Mr. Frazier's cautious behavior at the confirmation hearing as an indication that he will approach that revamping in a thoughtful and deliberate manner.

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