The Annapolis City Council confirmed Harold M. Robbins as the city's new police chief Friday night, but the council's two black aldermen abstained from voting, saying they had questions about Robbins' record on racial issues.
Aldermen Samuel Gilmer, D-Ward 3, and Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, abstained after talking with black community leaders in St. Petersburg, Fla., where Robbins serves as a deputy police chief. The two said they would have voted for Robbins on Monday night, had the city taken another day to look into their concerns.
Gilmer, who was visibly upset when he left the meeting early, said he talked with Garnelle Jenkins, head of the St. Petersburg NAACP. "They did not come up with a pretty picture," Gilmer said. "Now that the mayor has him, we'll see how he progresses."
"I'm hoping the new chief will do what his predecessor was unable to do, that is, win the confidence of all members of the department and community," said Snowden.
At a press conference after the vote, Robbins, 43, asked that he not be judged based on his superiors' policies, and said he would have handled some of the issues that concern Florida civil rights leaders differently.
"The nice thing about being chief of police is you can't pass the buck, but as deputy chief, you're one of the staff," Robbins said. "All the things that happened in St. Petersburg I do not completely agree with. . . . I would hate to be judged based on some of those things that have occurred."
Jenkins could not be reached Friday night, but interviews and recent stories in the St. Petersburg Times describe relations between the police and the black community in that city as tense.
The city of St. Petersburg did not renew a long-running affirmative action hiring policy this year, a decision which black community leaders protested. Of five lieutenants and seven sergeants recently promoted, none were black, said Sevell Brown, head of the St. Petersburg Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Blacks qualified for two of the positions, Brown said, but were ranked at the bottom of the list based on test scores and exercises.
Brown's group is also holding informal hearings on charges of police brutality and harassment of black residents.
In July, Robbins served on a panel that suspended a white sergeant for five days without pay for making a racial slur to a black sergeant. Black leaders wanted the sergeant fired.
Robbins, who started as a patrol officer in St. Petersburg in 1969, will begin work in Annapolis in late October. At $71,000 a year, he will be the city's highest-paid department head. His contract can be broken with two months' notice by either side.
Former Annapolis chief John C. Schmitt, who retired in May amid charges of racism and mismanagement, which he denied, was a civil service employee. He was bought out by the city for about $75,000 in salary and benefits.
Robbins was the clear choice of six finalists for the job, Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins said. More than 130 candidates applied from around the country. Robbins has been praised for his administrative abilities and interpersonal skills, as well as his experience in criminal and drug investigations.
"I take this as a very serious responsibility, to straighten out the police department of the city of Annapolis," Hopkins said. "I'm confident he will, if everyone will sit back, relax. In due time he will win the support of everyone in the city."
"We have a very young department with a lot of new officers, and I think Chief Robbins is exactly what the doctor ordered," said Alderman Theresa DeGraff, R-Ward 7, chairman of the public safety committee. "He won't maintain the status quo."
Robbins faces the challenge of reuniting a divided department and restoring relations with the city's black community.
The rift between the city's black community and the department center on the treatment of two black officers, Sgt. Robert E. Beans and Officer Chandler Powell, who spent eight months on desk duty while the department and state agencies investigated the operations of their unit, the now-defunct Delta Force drug squad.
The two officers were returned to duty after Beans was cleared of a variety of charges by a departmental review board, and charges against Powell were dropped.
Robbins said he would work to ease tensions. "If you're going to be successful, you've got to have every segment of the community behind you," he said. "You can't be successful if you've got a polarized department or a polarized community."