Major says NW command is his and 'no one else's

August 11, 1994|By Peter Hermann and Tanya Jones | Peter Hermann and Tanya Jones,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer Frank P.L. Somerville contributed to this report.

A defiant Maj. Barry Powell told a cheering crowd of about 100 supporters last night that he wants to keep command of the Northwestern Police District, despite the police commissioner's plan to transfer him.

"This is my command, no one else's," he told the crowd at the New Fellowship Christian Community Church. "I have a commitment to the Northwestern District. If this is the commander that you want, then I will stay."

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said last week that Major Powell, who is black, would be replaced with a Jewish officer -- a move that the commissioner has delayed after protests from leaders in the black community.

Major Powell said he did not think there was any friction between black and Jewish members of the community, but he did single out the head of the Northwest Citizens Patrol, a neighborhood anti-crime group run by Orthodox Jews.

"There is a problem and that is Rusty White," said Major Powell, who accused Mr. White of sending secret letters that undermined his authority and asked for his removal.

Earlier, a group representing 50 area synagogues said the area's Jewish community is being used as a scapegoat in the controversy over Major Powell's reassignment. The Baltimore Jewish Council denied in a strongly worded statement yesterday that community leaders had played any part in the move.

"We condemn individuals who have scapegoated the Jewish community in an effort to make an internal police staffing decision into a media event," Rabbi Joel H. Zaiman, president of the council, said in a statement. "Despite accusations to the contrary, the organized Jewish community has not in any way urged that Major Powell be removed from his position."

Last week, Mr. Frazier announced that 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.

The transfers of Major Powell and four other district commanders were part of a shake-up that included the retirements of two colonels and one captain.

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.

But the moves sparked protests from the National Association ++ for the Advancement of Colored People because three of the five commanders slated for administrative transfers are black. Much of the debate focused on Major Powell. Some black leaders said Major Powell reduced crime and improved departmental relations during his one-year stint as district commander.

But he had drawn criticism from members of the Jewish community by withdrawing one of two city police officers assigned to the Northwest Citizens Patrol.

Tuesday, after meeting with a delegation from the city's black community, the commissioner postponed the moves in the Northwestern district. He said his decision was designed to ease tensions between the black and Jewish communities.

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. Lieutenant Rosen will still be promoted to major; his new assignment has not been determined, the spokesman said.

Park Heights neighborhood leaders said yesterday they were pleased that the police commissioner had postponed his plan to transfer Major Powell, but they promised to push for the delay to become permanent.

Jean Yarborough, president of two community associations in the Park Heights area, met along with members of the Nation of Islam, the city NAACP and other residents for about an hour with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday afternoon.

Emerging from the City Hall meeting, she said the mayor listened to their concerns. "We are very positive about the outcome," she said, referring to her hope that Major Powell will remain the district commander.

Earlier in the day, Ms. Yarborough and others, speaking at a news conference 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 predominantly 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."

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