Baltimore's outgoing police commissioner proclaimed yesterday that the city became safer during his five-year tenure as he announced that he will resign Friday to start his new Justice Department job in Washington.
Thomas C. Frazier, in his final formal address to residents, hailed statistics showing a 30 percent drop in crime in Baltimore over the past three years.
"Baltimore is clearly a much safer city than it was five years ago, and now Baltimore's officers are a respected part of the social fabric," Frazier said at a news conference at police headquarters on East Fayette Street. "I leave knowing that we have come a long way -- Baltimore is proof that community policing truly works."
The 54-year-old California native was hired as an outsider by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to turn around a Police Department overwhelmed with crime. He has been named the director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
He will direct one of President Clinton's most cherished programs -- allocating grants to more than 11,000 police departments to reach the president's goal of putting 100,000 more police officers on the nation's streets. Frazier said he will continue to live in Baltimore.
Frazier sidestepped questions about his time in the job, which included arguments with the police union and black officers who accused him of failing to end racist practices within the department.
Many officers on the force privately detested Frazier, particularly when he began rotating them through different jobs every three years -- a move he said he made to open elite units such as homicide to minorities.
Officer Eunice A. Berry, who patrols the Western District, said yesterday that she liked "some of the things he did. The Police Athletic League is really good, but there's good and bad in everything you do."
The officer concluded, "I think I might miss him, although I might be the only one."
While facing some hard times at home, Frazier enjoyed a good national reputation. He was president of the Police Executive Research Forum and known for his progressive ideas. Justice Department officials said they chose him for his expertise and reputation.
Clinton released a statement yesterday calling Frazier "one of America's premier law enforcement officers." Frazier's new job starts Oct. 4.
Officials would not comment on other candidates for the Justice Department job.
While Frazier had repeatedly said he wanted to stay in Baltimore through 2002 -- the date set by the City Council for his tenure to end -- it had become clear in recent months that he might have to leave office when Schmoke is scheduled to end his term Dec. 7.
Both winners in the mayoral primary, Democrat Martin O'Malley and Republican David F. Tufaro, said they wanted to appoint their own chief. O'Malley, a frequent critic of Frazier, said crime had not fallen fast or far enough during Frazier's time as commissioner and said the city remained dangerous.
Yesterday's announcement fueled speculation on who will be the next commissioner, but both candidates declined to say if they had anyone in mind. Tufaro said he would look in-house first, but is not averse to a nationwide search. O'Malley would only say: "I'm looking for the best candidate."
Three interim leaders
Schmoke appointed yesterday three interim police commissioners to rotate through the top-floor office suite every three weeks. The chief of detectives, Col. John E. Gavrilis, and the two chiefs of patrol, Cols. Elbert Shirey and Robert Smith, will serve in alphabetical order.
Frazier replaced Edward V. Woods as commissioner in February 1994 after back-to-back years of record homicides. He was lured by Schmoke from San Jose, Calif., where he had risen through the ranks over 26 years to be that department's deputy chief.
During his first confirmation hearing, he listened to an impassioned speech by then-Councilman Carl Stokes, who painted a bleak picture of the city for its new top officer.
"Tonight, there will be gunshots in my neighborhood," Stokes told Frazier. "And the police think that's OK. I know you guys are brighter and smarter and better and more competent than to allow it to happen every day. I know you are."
A few months later, Frazier raided Greenmount Avenue, then the most dangerous city street, and put 47 drug dealers behind bars and proclaimed a new day for law enforcement in Baltimore.
Police Athletic League
Blunt and outspoken, he challenged the city's court and prison systems to do a better job and complained that he was alone in trying to institute judicial reforms, angering other department heads.
His biggest desire was to make Baltimore a standard-bearer for departments across the country. His signature program was the Police Athletic League -- 27 youth centers staffed with officers and open into the night. It attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the business community.
Above all, Frazier was a self-proclaimed social reformer. He spent time searching for fishing poles and vans for his PAL program and made headlines by ordering officers to concentrate on guns and to avoid arresting addicts with small amounts of drugs.
He sent officers to the Netherlands to study that country's liberal drug laws, and liked Japanese-style kobans, or small police booths, so much that he had them built in three parts of Baltimore.
Schmoke said yesterday that "selecting Tom Frazier as commissioner was one of the best decisions that I made during my tenure in office."
Tenure included turmoil
Both officials skirted around the turmoil that has often engulfed the department over the years: internal racial strife, disparate discipline and fights between commanders.
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.
An ensuing firestorm included a public rebuke of Frazier by Schmoke, protest marches by officers and a command staff divided over race and personalities. Yesterday, Schmoke and Frazier said problems of race were dealt with.
"We have come a long, long way," Frazier said.
Neither Frazier nor Schmoke would comment on who the next commissioner should be. Some city leaders said they would support an candidate from within the department.
"Every officer should be held accountable for reducing crime," said Sheila Dixon, the Democratic nominee for City Council president. "Personal issues should not be a factor."
Sheldon Greenberg, the director of the Police Executive Leadership Program at the Johns Hopkins University, said the city needs someone who is "passionate about Baltimore. Without a genuine love of the city, followed by a genuine love of police, all we are going to get is a process manager."
Staff member David Foster contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 9/25/99