Police transfer delay praised in community

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

Leaders in the Park Heights community said today they were pleased that Baltimore's police commissioner has postoned a plan to transfer the commander of the Northwestern District, but promised to push for the delay to become permanent.

"This community appreciates the stay that we have gotten, but we demand that [Major] Barry Powell stay in this community," said Jean Yarborough, who heads two community associations in northwest Baltimore.

"That's the bottom line," she said. "That's what the agenda is."

The dozen community leaders, politicians and members of the city NAACP and Nation of Islam have scheduled a meeting today with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke at City Hall to discuss the issue. But Ms. Yarborough said they will not ask the may or to overrule whatever decision the commissioner makes.

Ms. Yarborough and others, speaking at a news conference this morning on the steps of the Northwestern District police station, downplayed accusations that some members of the district's Jewish community pushed for Major Powell's ouster because they were upset with his decision to reassign officers to predominately black neighborhoods.

"I don't think it is fair of us to label all of the Jewish community as antagonistic," Ms. Yarborough said. "There is a small segment that has its own agenda. We're not going to address that agenda."

But another community leader, Beverly Thomas, said: "I believe we made it clear to the commissioner that no small segment will ever determine the destiny of this community again."

Yesterday, Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, postponed a plan to transfer Major Powell, who is black, and to replace him with a new commander who is Jewish, following a two-hour meeting with a delagation from the city's black community. He said it was to ease tensions between the black and Jewish communities.

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 Ms. Yarborough.

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.

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