The president of Annapolis' Black Officers Association yesterday accused the top police administrator of racial intimidation, a move thatunleashed a storm of protests by members who called for the president's resignation.
At an impromptu press conference, Officer George Kelley sharply criticized Chief Harold Robbins for trying to weaken the nine-year-old association by pitting officers against each other. He charged the Robbins administration wants to "place a blanket of fear into the hearts of black officers."
His remarks outraged many black police officers, who said they fully support the chief.
"This is not right. He's making accusationsand causing a community uproar," said Capt. Norman Randall, who wentto hear Kelley speak after he heard about the news conference from areporter.
Sgt. William R. Powell said the 24-member association was not informed in advance of the news conference. He termed Kelley'stwo-page statement "irresponsible" and "inflammatory."
"If he's going to purport to stand for me, he ought to ask me first," said the 19-year veteran.
Kelley called three local newspapers Wednesday afternoon, saying the association would release a statement the next morning. At 11:15 a.m. yesterday, he told a handful of reporters and community leaders at the Stanton Recreation Center that the associationwas ending its yearlong silence on the Robbins administration.
The Annapolis police force has been troubled for years by charges of racism and mismanagement. But officers interviewed yesterday said the department has improved dramatically since Robbins was hired in 1990 and Col. Joseph S. Johnson, a former commander of Baltimore City's patrol division, became the first black deputy chief in March 1991.
"For once, we're being heard and being dealt with equitably," said Sgt. A. Selman Wallace.
A 24-year veteran who helped organize the Black Officers Association, Wallace praised the chief and assistant chief for recruiting and promoting more minorities. He and other black officers said Kelley was a "loose cannon" who does not represent the general membership and should resign.
Kelley complained the black officers had to struggle to provide the minority recruiters with the "necessary training and resources." He also said white officers often resisted progress, citing as example grievances filed when a black officer joined the all-white K-9 unit.
Robbins and Johnson said theirdoors are always open for officers to bring complaints.
Kelley said every attempt to talk with the chief disintegrated into a confrontation.
He blamed Robbins for setting the wrong tone from the day he took office by insisting there was "no need for a black officers association here" and suggesting the group focus on social activities.
Shown the quote yesterday, Robbins called it "absolutely false" and said Kelley "twisted my words around" to put a negative spin on a sympathetic statement.
"When I got here, I told him (Kelley) it wasa shame that the black officers had to form their own association tobe heard," he said.
Robbins dismissed the other charges as stemming from a personnel dispute. A black officer who is facing disciplinary action is scheduled to bring his case before an internal board in April.
"This whole complaint, as I see it, has nothing to do with racism, but with a disciplinary issue," Johnson agreed.
Kelley indicated that a popular black officer who worked in the O'Bery Court and Harbour House public housing communities was moved as part of "the attempts to weaken the organization."
Johnson disputed that claim,saying the officer was shifted because of poor job performance.