Randall Seen As Behind-the-scenes Motivation For Many

Highest-ranking Black Officer Is Widely Respected

February 13, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

Michael T. Brown figures he was a prime candidate for a life of crime when he was growing up on Clay Street in Annapolis. The difference was a cop who was more than a cop -- Capt. Norman Randall.

"It waslike your father was there even when he wasn't," said Brown, 36, a senior agent in the state Parole and Probation Department. "He's always been available for private talks, personal talks, which I think goes way beyond his job. He became a very positive role model."

A lot of the kids on Clay Street knew that about Randall, said Brown. Even if high school guidance counselors didn't encourage black youngsters to further their education, Randall did. Even if your father wasn't around to set you straight, Randall was.

Brown's father was a career Army officer who spent long stretches of time away from home. So Brown often turned to Randall for advice. Randall encouraged Brown to join the Marine Corps and enter college.

"He gave many young guys direction. And even today there are people that go to him," said Brown, who described himself as a "wayward" teen-ager. "I never got in trouble" with the law. I was on the brink of trouble a lot of the time with the people I hung around with. . . . If not for Randall, I'd probably have a (prison) number."

You wouldn't know any of this by talking to Randall, a modest, soft-spoken man who is the highest-ranking black and the senior officer on the 112-member Annapolis Police Department. The walls of his office are festooned with community service awards, but Randall shies from discussing them. He doesn'tput himself up as a role model. He says he's been doing his job.

One of the first times Michael Brown met Randall was when he came notto counsel Brown, but to arrest him. As it turned out, the subject of the search was a different Michael Brown.

"He came to my house, met with my mother, straightened it out," said Brown, who recalled being 16 at the time. "Other cops would have taken it at face value: 'You're Michael Brown, you're going downtown.' "

Joseph "Zastrow" Simms, who works for the Annapolis Housing Authority and the county Drug and Alcohol Abuse Program, puts Randall in the company of the late Dr. Aris T. Allen for his influence and the respect he inspires in the community. Simms, who spent years in federal and state prisons on many larceny and burglary charges, said he was arrested by Randall fortheft in the 1960s.

"He said, 'Zastrow, I don't like doing this, but I know it was you,' " said Simms. "You knew he was just trying todo his job. He didn't humiliate you."

By all reports, Randall, 55, has tread gracefully over the years in two worlds -- those of law enforcement and the community.

Randall crossed into the nearly all-white world of the Annapolis Police Department in March 1962 and confronted a chilly welcome. This was just two years after the first two black officers were hired. Randall was one of four blacks on the force in 1962, a time when black officers were forbidden to drive cruisers and were restricted to patrolling the city's predominantly black sections.

"I'll never forget my first day," said Randall. "I approached my locker room. I could hear the guys laughing and talking. When I walked into the room, everybody got quiet."

The silence was broken by John Goddard, a white officer, who extended his hand and offered his help to the 26-year-old Randall.

Before joining the force, Randall was working as a nursing attendant at Crownsville State Hospital and "like most young blacks, I didn't want to be a police officer."

His friend, Officer Dauncy Holland, talked him into it. "It was the best decision of my life," he said.

His first big break on thedepartment came because of his contacts in the black community. In January 1968, a Solomon's Island grocer was robbed and beaten to deathin his store by two men. The suspects were black. The department washaving trouble tracking them down. Randall was called in to the detective division to help.

In three weeks, two young black men were arrested. In the next three years, Randall was promoted from detectiveto sergeant to lieutenant. He made captain in 1981.

When he joined the department, Randall said, "I told everyone I'm going to be the first black chief of police."

He has since abandoned that goal. Hedid not apply for the position when Chief John C. Schmitt was replaced in September by Harold M. Robbins, who had been serving as deputy chief in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"I just decided I didn't need it," Randall said. "Too much back-stabbing, too many complaints. I thought my being black and being here, I thought it would be too much friction."

Randall hopes that Robbins can help to heal the racial divisions that he said remain from Schmitt's 10-year administration.

"Some (white) officers pass you in the hall, don't speak," Randall said. "That's a bad sign. We don't have to love each other, but we do have to work together."

Schmitt retired amid charges of racism and mismanagement. He steadfastly denied the charges, but Randall, among others, believes the former chief helped create the conditions that prompted the Black Officers Association to file a federal discrimination suit in 1984. The result was a court settlement requiring the department to hire more black officers, to encourage harmony within the department and between the department and the city's black community.

If relations between the police and the black community have been strained, it is in spite of the efforts of Captain Randall, said Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5.

"Because he is so well-known and well-respected," said Snowden, "He does more in one day to promote police-community relations that anybody I know."

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