Frazier's reforms must be continued; Police commissioner As he moves to Washington, commissioner should be cultivated as a friend, resource.


POLICE Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier deserves a better send-off than the Democratic mayoral candidate's needlessly tactless dismissal: "Sic semper tyrannis" ("Thus always to tyrants").

Regardless of how Councilman Martin O'Malley and other critics feel about the commissioner, Mr. Frazier will leave Baltimore having achieved a partial overhaul of the troubled police department. That shake-up in work practices and culture was long overdue.

Could it have been done differently? Sure. But Mr. Frazier, in his five years here, was able to get the reform process started despite some missteps. The next mayor should be as lucky in his choice of a police commissioner.

Mr. Frazier had detractors.

Elected officials like Mr. O'Malley and Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV criticized the commissioner because he, unnecessarily and unwisely, sometimes refused to personally appear before legislative oversight committees.

The police union railed against the commissioner because Mr. Frazier systematically emasculated it. That's what his controversial rotation policy was all about: Mr. Frazier wanted to break the union's stranglehold on job assignments so that more career and advancement opportunities could be provided for younger officers, particularly minorities and women.

As an outsider from California, Mr. Frazier found it easier than a local appointee to tell a legion of other self-seeking pressure groups to mind their own business. Predictably, those groups, having lost their ability to influence and meddle, were vocally unhappy.

The next mayor should reflect on all this very carefully. In the next few weeks, all kinds of interest groups will try to promote their candidate for police commissioner. Not because they are interested in justice or law and order but because they want to have the next commissioner in their pocket.

Mr. Frazier leaves a solid record as he departs for a job with the Justice Department.

He revived the Police Athletic League, introduced a 311 system to divert non-urgent calls from 911. He bought new equipment and improved training, upgraded the crime lab, aggressively sought outside grants, initiated clean sweeps and an attack on youth violence.

Because he sought systemic change, many Frazier reforms are likely to bear fruit in future years. "He was not a quick-fix guy," said one law-enforcement scholar.

The next mayor would be foolish to abandoned these reforms only because they were introduced by Mr. Frazier. Indeed, in his new, influential post in Washington he should be cultivated as a friend and resource for Baltimore.

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