Disputed police transfer is postponed by Frazier

August 10, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

In a move to ease tensions between the black and Jewish communities, Baltimore's police commissioner yesterday postponed a plan to transfer the commander of the Northwestern District, who is black, and to replace him with a new commander who is Jewish.

Commissioner Thomas Frazier announced his decision to postpone the transfer of Maj. Barry Powell after a two-hour meeting with a delegation from the city's black community.

Last week, Mr. Frazier said Major Powell would be reassigned to head the property division and would be replaced by Lt. Jeff Rosen, a shift commander in the Southeastern District.

Mr. Frazier announced the transfers of Major Powell and four other district commanders as part of a shake-up that included the retirements of two colonels and one captain.

The transfers sparked protests from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People because three of the five commanders slated for administrative transfers are black.

During the meeting yesterday morning, Mr. Frazier heard an outpouring of support for Major Powell from members of the NAACP, the Nation of Islam, the Vanguard Justice society and community residents.

"It is our feeling that if we lose this gentleman, our community will suffer and suffer greatly," said Jean Yarborough, who heads two community associations in Northwest Baltimore and served as spokeswoman for the delegation that met with Mr. Frazier at police headquarters.

Ms. Yarborough said Major Powell reduced crime and improved departmental relations during his one-year stint as commander of the Northwestern District.

He also drew criticism from members of the Jewish community by withdrawing one of two city police officers assigned to the Northwest Citizens Patrol. The anti-crime group is made up primarily of Orthodox Jews who live in Upper Park Heights.

Several hours after meeting with members of the black community, Mr. Frazier issued a statement that called the transfer "temporarily postponed."

"The issue that exists in the district between some members of the African-American and some members of the Jewish community must be addressed," the statement said. "I will not implement a transfer that clearly could further increase tensions."

A police spokesman said Major Powell's transfer will not go into effect before the commissioner meets with representatives from the black and Jewish communities next month in an effort to ease tensions.

Mr. Frazier has said he ordered the transfers in keeping with his rotation policy and because he felt some of the officers could be of better use in new positions. As head of the property division, Major Powell would have overseen a $32 million expansion of police headquarters.

In an interview before he met with the commissioner yesterday afternoon, Major Powell said he was aware of some criticism.

"I have heard that certain residents in the Jewish community were not satisfied with some administrative actions I have taken in my district," the major said.

Major Powell said he also had seen two letters sent to the Police Department and mayor's office asking them to rescind some of his administrative decisions.

After emerging from yesterday's meeting, Del. Tony Fulton, who represents Northwest Baltimore, charged the Jewish community has pressured the department to remove Major Powell.

Contacted after the meeting, Dina Blaustein, a Northwest Citizens Patrol official, said her organization did not seek the major's ouster. She declined further comment.

Mindy Koplon, director of government relations for the Baltimore Jewish Council, said her group "was as surprised as everyone else about Major Powell's transfer. We had never put any pressure on anyone to remove Major Powell and never had any problems with him. We are certainly happy he's staying."

Sam Ringgold, a police spokesman, said Mr. Frazier's decision had nothing to do with the letters or other concerns, but the spokesman said the issue regarding the Northwest Citizens Patrol will be discussed at a meeting with black and Jewish community leaders scheduled next month.

Said the 41-year-old Major Powell: "The community was supportive of me. They didn't want me to leave. The voice of the community has been heard, but there will be a time that I will leave the Northwest District. . . . But right now it is not the time. There is still work to be done."

He said he was surprised and overwhelmed by the expressions of community support. "I never asked for the job to be taken away," he said, adding that he was neutral on whether he should return to the district. "I work wherever the commissioner thinks is my best opportunity to help the agency."

Lieutenant Rosen will still be promoted to major tomorrow and his new assignment has not been determined, Mr. Ringgold said.

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