When Sgt. Robert E. Beans stepped down as head of the Annapolis Police Department's Black Officers Association last October, many assumedthe organization would be quieter under its new president, narcoticsDetective George Kelley.
They were wrong. The association has been more active than ever during Kelley's six months on the job.
"The guy has exceeded my expectations," said Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5. "He took over the leadership of the BOA and hit the ground running. It has enhanced his position in the community tremendously."
The group has issued press releases, conducted fund-raisersand established ties with groups like the Black Political Forum and the county National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
But the group's biggest success has been its lobbying efforts insupport of a black deputy police chief. Last month, the group met with Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins and issued a press release asking the mayor to keep his promise to hire a black deputy. A few days later, Hopkins announced he would do so.
Hopkins denied any connection betweenthe two, but the timing of the announcement suggested the lobbying had an impact.
Last week, the BOA criticized Alderman Theresa DeGraff, R-Ward 7, for saying black officers in the department weren't qualified to become deputy chief. DeGraff has refused to apologize for her remarks.
Beans, a persistent critic of the department's leadership for several years, stepped down as head of the BOA last fall, so a change in the association's leadership would coincide with the arrival of new Police Chief Harold Robbins. Kelley ran against two other officers for the job.
"I'm not a politician," Kelley said. "When issues arise, I search my heart and try to decide right from wrong. Unfortunately, I see wrong, and when I see injustice, I feel obligated to speak out. All we ask is to be treated with respect and equality."
Kelley, 34, grew up in the the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, N.Y., a "ghetto" in his own words. One of seven children of a longshoreman and a homemaker, he had a strong religious upbringing. An ordained minister, Kelley is assistant pastor at the Greater St. John's Full Gospel Baptist Church in Baltimore.
He attended John Jay Criminal Justice College, but couldn't afford to finish, so he dropped out and joined the Marines. He went to work for the New York City Transit Police, then spent five years as an NYPD patrol officer in the tough Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.
He came to Annapolis 2 1/2years ago so his three children "could grow up without having to fight to survive." He brought with him aggressive police tactics criticized by residents of Annapolis' 10 public housing communities.
Kelley said most of the criticism came from relatives of people he arrested.
"I'm a street cop," Kelley said. "If anyone goes back to New York, they'll tell you Officer Kelley was hard, but he was fair and hewas tough on the drug dealers. You can't go to drug dealers and say,'Please leave the corner.' Guys who deal drugs only know aggression."
"When I first came down here, I had a bad experience in the projects -- bottles were thrown at me and dogs were sicked on me," he said. "I wasn't accustomed to that. But over time, the same individuals and I have grown to mutual respect. I haven't changed the way I do myjob."
Annapolis Housing Authority Executive Director Harold S. Greene said he hasn't heard a complaint about Kelley from residents inseveral months. "He comes out of Bedford-Stuyvesant," Greene said. "Police work is different there, and I think it took him a while to get accustomed to Annapolis. Personally, I think he's a good cop."
Indeed, Kelley's stature has grown. He was named "Annapolitan of the Year" last year by the Annapolis Jaycees, an award won previously by Sen. Gerald Winegrad, D-Annapolis, and Circuit Court Judge Warren Duckett.
Kelley hopes to get both the BOA and the entire police department more involved in the community. He would like the department to assign officers to a single neighborhood so they know the community better.
"I've been saying since I got here that we need better community relations," he said. "I would like the community to come in andbreak bread with us, and discuss changes in the department and arrests made. I want the community to see the department as their department."
He wants BOA members to serve as role models for kids. He wants to start a Police Athletic League and a scholarship program for disadvantaged kids.
"There are kids out there dying, without role models," he said. "We can't save the world, but maybe we can save a handful."