Frazier taking key Justice post in Washington; Police commissioner winds up five years heading city force; Outspoken on reforms


Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, an outspoken outsider hired to reduce crime and restore confidence in the city's police force, is to be named head of a top Justice Department program today.

Clinton administration sources said a formal announcement is scheduled for this morning.

Frazier will become the director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which is responsible for allocating money to reach President Clinton's goal of placing 100,000 more officers on the nation's streets.

Officials in Washington and Baltimore would not comment publicly on Frazier's appointment, and details such as his departure date or starting date on his new job were not available.

Frazier, who declined to comment yesterday, had been expected to leave by the end of the year. Each nominee for mayor had said recently that, if elected, he would appoint a new police chief on taking office in December.

The news was met with mixed reaction in Baltimore. Some lamented the loss of a man Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has called "the best police commissioner in the country," while others said it offers new opportunities to make the city safer.

Councilman Martin O'Malley, the Democratic nominee for mayor and a frequent critic of Frazier, took a shot at the outgoing commissioner and his confrontational style that angered many in local government.

"Sic semper tyrannis," O'Malley quipped. The phrase is Latin for "Thus always to tyrants."

David F. Tufaro, the Republican nominee for mayor, said Frazier's new job "should benefit Baltimore by having a friend in Washington." He said he wants to meet with Frazier to discuss the success of various programs.

Schmoke declined to comment.

The commissioner, 54, was hired five years ago from the San Jose, Calif., Police Department to turn around a department viewed as incapable of ending a wave of violence and years of record homicide numbers that prompted the removal of his predecessor, Edward V. Woods.

Despite criticisms and controversies, Frazier lasted longer than most big-city police chiefs -- the average is less than three years, according to studies by police chief associations -- to become one of the longest-serving commissioners in the department's 200-year history.

"He took a major city police department that had fallen from the national scene and in a very short period of time had begun to turn it back into a national model," said Sheldon F. Greenberg, head of the Police Executive Leadership Program at the Johns Hopkins University.

"Five or six years ago, folks from Baltimore were calling everywhere trying to figure what to do," he said. "Now, police departments are calling here."

Frazier fought his critics over everything from internal racial strife to his policy of rotating officers from job to job, which brought him condemnation from the police union.

"We've never seen eye to eye in what's best for the Police Department," said Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 3. "Now it's time for us as an agency to move forward and concentrate on making Baltimore a safer place to live."

With Frazier's departure, the union head added, "Morale just improved 100 percent."

O'Malley had several brushes with Frazier and once accused him of a "massive hoax on the city" for inflating crime reduction figures. Frazier resisted calls by O'Malley to implement so-called "zero-tolerance" policing, saying the strategy backfired in New York, where the department is saddled with complaints of brutality and discrimination.

Although crime and homicides dropped under Frazier's tenure, the declines were not as dramatic or as quick as in other cities.

Community support

Community leaders interviewed last night said they were sorry to see Frazier go. "I think he's been good for Baltimore," said Lucille Gorham, director of Middle East Community Organization. "Officers used to harass people, but they don't any more."

Jean Yarborough, president of the Park Heights Networking Community Council, said Frazier inherited many problems.

"I personally do not think that Frazier did an awful job," she said. "I think the city of Baltimore has a lot to overcome. We as a community have got to look at ourselves. We have got to find a way to combat some of the things that are happening in our community."

U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia said Frazier brought increased professionalism and "did a tremendous amount to increase cooperation between law enforcement agencies. It's a tremendous legacy."

Frazier, who called himself a "social worker with a gun," took Baltimore by storm. He shucked the traditional suit and tie of a commissioner for a uniform, rode around in a marked squad car and made so many appearances on television that he was quickly dubbed "TV Tom."

His willingness to criticize other agencies, such as the courts and jails, for failing to implement reforms, shocked many. He challenged the city's top prosecutor to stop dropping cases and took over recreation centers with declining budgets through his Police Athletic League program.

He created controversy for publicly proclaiming that addicts holding small amounts of drugs were "not a law enforcement priority" for his department.

His oft-quoted mantra that police "can't arrest their way out of the drug problem" has been called gutsy by other chiefs.

'National reputation'

"He has a national reputation as a progressive, thoughtful leader who is not afraid to make tough decisions," said Chuck Wexler, the director of the Police Executive Research Forum, of which Frazier is president.

"The easiest thing he could have done when he came to Baltimore was to go with the program," he said. "But being a police chief today doesn't mean doing what is popular, it means doing what is right."

But Frazier could not shake problems of race. Though his critics agree he inherited many problems, they complain that he was slow to react once faced with evidence showing that black officers were far more likely to be fired or disciplined than their white colleagues for the same offenses.

Reforms were not implemented until after O'Malley led two hearings at which a parade of black officers complained of disparate treatment.

"I never got the sense that departmentwide, folks saw race as a critical issue," said Alvin O. Gillard, chairman of the city's Community Relations Commission, which investigates discrimination in city agencies.

"When the issues came to the forefront on his watch, he had a responsibility to deal with them," said Gillard, who led an investigation that concluded racism existed on the police force. "He did not move forward in a deliberate way."

Frazier triggered an uproar among the city's clergy, politicians and black residents in 1997 when he suspended his top black deputy, Col. Ronald L. Daniel, who suggested at a private meeting with other black officers that Frazier be replaced if racial discord in the force couldn't be resolved. Frazier accused Daniel of advocating "an overthrow of the government."

On other fronts, Frazier moved quickly. He purged upper command ranks months after he arrived and led a drug sweep on Greenmount Avenue, considered then the most dangerous street in Baltimore. "This is our day," he proudly proclaimed after the initiative that sent 46 drug dealers to prison.

One of Frazier's main goals was to turn the Baltimore Police Department into a national model, and several of his programs, such as the 311 nonemergency number, have been copied in cities across the country.

His signature program was the Police Athletic League, which has been hailed by the White House as a national model. He used the program to woo hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from his strongest support base: the business community.

McLhinney, the union head, said the city had "a better police department prior to Tom Frazier. I think we had more respect in the community, and we did a better job of solving crimes. And our morale, while not good then, was better than it is now."

But the Rev. Theresa E. Smith-Mercer, whom Frazier hired as the department's first full-time chaplain, said the next chief needs to "care as much about Baltimore as our commissioner does. I would not like to see our city become a city of blight because of a lack of vision."

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