Answering concerns, police chief may spare some veterans from rotation plan

April 14, 1994|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,Sun Staff Writer

For the first time since he announced a controversial plan to make city police officers change jobs on a regular schedule, Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said yesterday that he may exempt some long-time veterans to avoid crippling specialized units.

Most notably, the commissioner said he may let a few veteran homicide detectives stay on a year-by-year basis to train the next generation of officers he plans to cycle into the unit by 1998.

"Would I discard the policy completely if it doesn't work, sure," he said. "But I don't expect that to happen. I fully expect us to go through with it starting in October."

It was the first time the commissioner addressed concerns from judges, medical examiners, prosecutors and long-time detectives who fear disastrous consequences if he replaces half the 45-member homicide unit over the next three years.

But it was far from a full retreat.

Citing an entrenched "good ol' boy system" that keeps women, blacks and younger officers from advancing to elite units, Mr. Frazier said that too many veteran officers consider themselves "the anointed appointed" and are playing on public fears to protect their jobs.

"Some of these positions carry overtime salaries of $15,000 a year, some as high as $30,000," he said. "And it's going to be a rough adjustment for a lot of them who have gotten used to that to go back to a patrolman's salary."

The starting salary for a Baltimore police officer is $24,300 and rises to about $32,000 after 20 years -- a salary spread roughly comparable to those offered by the nation's six largest police department's, according to the Washington D.C.-based Police Foundation.

Commissioner Frazier also took police union officials to task for failing to reply to his request for comments on the policy more than a month after he sent it to them.

Lt. Leander S. Nevin, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, described Mr. Frazier's position as "bull."

"My exact words to him, face-to-face three different times sitting across the table were rotation is a good idea, but rotate people who are incompetent, rotate the guys who can't do the job," he said.

"If he did it based on merit we would back him 100 percent. But he's doing it arbitrarily based on seniority. If you've done your job well for years, sorry, you're going to be the first to go."

Lieutenant Nevin also disputed the commissioner's contention that such jobs are handed out on the basis of friendships and connections.

"The good ol' boy system around here had been dead for years," he said. "There are so many tests, and rules and standards now that you couldn't show favoritism to somebody if you wanted to."

In another sore spot for veterans, the commissioner said he is also considering exempting some members of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's 24-member bodyguard detail from rotation so they can train new officers.

But he said he intends to rotate his staff before applying the policy to the rest of the department and will limit the number of exemptions to avoid the appearance of favoritism.

The only officers to be completely exempt are the department's nine helicopter pilots, the commissioner said, because it is impractical to train a new crop of pilots on a regular basis.

K-9 officers will serve for five years or for the life of their dogs because they cannot be turned over to new handlers. Bomb technicians in the Emergency Vehicle Unit will also serve for five years. And homicide detectives will serve for six. All other officers in specialized units will be transferred after four years and patrol officers after three.

As they are moved, young patrol officers will step in to fill their shoes and gain the experience they need to advance, the commissioner said.

"To the veteran officer who has had his job forever, it is a shock -- and a lot of them are angry right now," Mr. Frazier said. "But I had one patrol guy come up to me recently and say 'Hey Commissioner, the good guys are wagging their tails.' "

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