Annapolis Police Chief Harold Robbins promoted five minority patrolmen to the rank of corporal yesterday in an "extraordinary" effort to increase the number of blacks and women in supervisory jobs.
The promotions, made two weeks before the department had scheduled a round of promotional exams, have led to rumblings of preferential treatment among the rank-and-file. The five new corporals, who now are eligible to become sergeants, had qualified for promotion to corporal based on two-year-old test results that have expired. Other officers who qualified on the earlier test will have to take it again if they want to be considered for promotion.
The sergeants' exam will be postponed 60 days, allowing the new corporals time to prepare, Chief Robbins said. Exams for corporal and lieutenant will be held in early December, as scheduled.
"I apologize to the people being promoted if my extraordinary action in any way diminishes this event for them," Chief Robbins said during a low-key ceremony at the department's Taylor Avenue headquarters. "We simply cannot rely on the process . . . to satisfy the lack of representation in the ranks at this time."
The chief said he believed yesterday's promotions were necessary because all 10 of the department's corporals are white men. That would have meant no minorities could have tested for sergeant, a key supervisory post, during next month's exams.
Officer George Kelley, president of the Annapolis Black Officers' Association, which brought a discrimination suit against the city police during the mid-1980s, described the chief's effort as a "historic" step toward "curing the ills that still plague the police department."
A federal consent decree requiring the agency to hire and promote more minorities was satisfied last year, as the department's racial makeup now mirrors the city's.
The department has a number high-ranking black officers, including the assistant chief, one of three captains and four of 14 sergeants. The problem addressed yesterday concerned who was eligible to replace those officers as they become eligible to retire during the next year.
To allow the promotions, the chief sought and received approval last week from the mayor and key City Council members to create five corporal positions at a total cost of about $7,500. The size of the police force will remain at 120 officers.
The chief said he hopes to fill single vacancies in the ranks of corporal and sergeant from those exams early next year.
A corporal, whose pay starts at $28,093, is a "supervisor in training," occasionally commanding small units, the chief said. The department's 14 sergeants direct day-to-day police activities, commanding squads of as many as eight officers.
All of the officers promoted had qualified for the rank of corporal after taking the last promotional exam two years ago.
Receiving the rank of corporal yesterday were patrolmen first class Hubert Bibbs, Doris Harrington, Brenda Higgs, James Scott and James Spearman.
Corporal Higgs said she had mixed emotions about receiving her new rank, because she knew it could cause hurt feelings among some of her colleagues.
"I'm not sure how I feel about it," she said.