PROGRESS HAS been made in the three years Thomas C. Frazier has run the Baltimore Police Department. Violent crimes and property crimes are down. There have been fewer homicides compared with this time a year ago. More officers are working with neighborhood activists to solve problems that spawn criminal activity. And yet the police commissioner is in trouble.

What had been viewed as the typical disenchantment of the police union rank-and-file is now seen as a potentially debilitating animus toward the chief that has infected even his top staff. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, in second-guessing Mr. Frazier's decision to discipline a senior commander for alleged insubordination, has only made matters worse. Without the mayor's unquestioned support, Mr. Frazier's capacity to lead is severely weakened.

Col. Ronald L. Daniel was suspended Wednesday after Mr. Frazier received reports the highest-ranking African American on the force had said the commissioner should be fired. Colonel Daniel reportedly was upset with Mr. Frazier's handling of internal racial discrimination complaints. His brief suspension was rescinded after Mr. Schmoke intervened.

It is troubling that the mayor and his police commissioner did not determine the appropriate action to take in Colonel Daniel's case when they discussed it last weekend. The about-face Mr. Frazier had to execute as a result has cost him considerable credibility within the department that only further damages his leadership.

A Fraternal Order of Police poll in February showed 87 percent of those participating wanted Mr. Frazier to resign. The results were in part due to a now-resolved stalemate over the police officers' new union contract. Meanwhile, Mr. Frazier is still trying to cultivate loyalty among a force of often resentful veterans who still see him as the new boy in town.

Controversial personnel and policy changes, as well as his refusal to express support for a sergeant ultimately convicted of manslaughter for shooting an unarmed motorist, have not helped Mr. Frazier win friends. If he can't count on the mayor to back his decisions, he may as well leave town. That should not happen.

Baltimore is finally heading in the right direction on fighting crime because Mr. Frazier, the courts and the state's attorney's office are doing a better job figuring out what works. Mr. Frazier isn't infallible. He has made mistakes. But he has been good for Baltimore. The mayor should stand by him and help the commissioner make the right decisions for the police department and for this city.

Pub Date: 4/25/97

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