City police transfers called step back in race relations

August 04, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Joel Obermayer contributed to this article.

Baltimore's police commissioner announced sweeping changes yesterday in the department's command staff, including the transfer of three black district commanders -- a move that the city NAACP called a breach of faith.

Department officials say the shake-up, involving 13 ranking officers, is a part of new Commissioner Thomas Frazier's efforts to streamline operations and rotate officers from one job to another.

But George N. Buntin, executive director of the Baltimore NAACP, charged that the moves were a step backward in race relations.

"We have fought for years to get involved in the command structure in that department," he said, adding that his group will ask that the transfers be put on hold until after a meeting with the mayor. "Now, all the blacks are being removed."

The dispute over the transfers marks the first racially tinged conflict since Mr. Frazier, who is white, took command of policing in the predominantly black city in January. The former San Jose, Calif., police official was appointed after a sometimes heated City Council hearing, which included some criticism from black ministers.

Mr. Buntin said his organization was pressured "to oppose the commissioner on racial grounds" but decided to support the mayor's choice.

"We trusted [Mr. Frazier] when he said this department did not reflect the community's demographics," Mr. Buntin said.

But Mr. Frazier's recent personnel moves, such as the departure of Eugene Tanzymore Jr. -- one of three deputy commissioners asked to retire in June -- do not promise well, he said.

Sam Ringgold, the police department's chief spokesman, said two of the new district commanders being promoted are black. He also said that there are now nine black officers with the rank of major, compared with six when Mr. Frazier took over six months ago.

"I don't think that is a step back," the spokesman said.

Commissioner Frazier said last night, "I think what happened is that the rumor mill got ahead of the press release," the commissioner said. "Those assignments were made very carefully. I was sensitive in ensuring the promotions and assignments did in fact reflect the community."

Two black district commanders being transferred said yesterday that Mr. Frazier made it known when he arrived that everyone, including members of the command staff, could be rotated to new jobs.

"I have no complaints. The commissioner has a policy of rotations to give his commanders an opportunity to experience new parts of the department," said Maj. Alvin Winkler, a high-profile commander of the Eastern District, where the community policing program began.

He will take over the Traffic Division and will be the major events coordinator.

Mr. Frazier that that position carries a lot of responsibility in that Major Winkler will coordinate police work related to the October visit of Pope John Paul II.

The commissioner said another black district commander being transferred, Maj. Barry Powell of the Northwestern District, will be in charge of the property division and will oversee a $32 million addition being built next to police headquarters this fall.

City Councilman Lawrence A. Bell, a 3rd District Democrat who is chairman of the public safety committee, said he was surprised by the transfers. He said he would ask Mr. Frazier to explain to the committee "exactly what has happened and the rationale behind these moves."

The changes announced yesterday include the retirements later this month of two colonels and a major from the 2,900-member force -- officers with a total of 121 years of experience. They are:

* Col. Patricia A. Mullen, 49, a 30-year veteran who is the department's highest-ranking female officer and headed the community service division.

* Col. George L. Christian, 59, a 35-year veteran who worked in the commissioner's office heading planning and legal services.

* Maj. Charles M. Dickens, 53, a 32-year veteran who headed the traffic section.

Mr. Frazier said the three "are very senior people" who have put in their time. "These are people who were talking about retirement when I got here," he said.

Replacing Colonel Mullen will be Maj. Margaret Patten, the current commander of the Northern District, who will be promoted.

In other moves, Maj. Robert DiStefano, commander of the Southern District, will be named Central Records Division Commander; and Maj. Victor Gregory, commander of the Western District, will be in charge of the Neighborhood Patrol Bureau.

Asked about the NAACP's concerns, Major Powell said, "As far as management, I'm not going to make any comment because the police commissioner runs this agency."

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