NW police commander says he serves at pleasure of Frazier

August 12, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

A day after telling a cheering crowd that commanding the Northwestern Police District was his job and "no one else's," Maj. Barry Powell backed off and said he will gladly leave when the police commissioner gives the order.

"I know I can be moved or transferred at the pleasure of the police commissioner," the major said in an interview yesterday. "And that is the way it should be."

It was another day in the on-again, off-again status of the 41-year-old major, whose transfer order last week touched off complaints from the NAACP, the Nation of Islam and black

politicians and community leaders.

Major Powell's supporters blamed a "small segment" of the Jewish community for seeking his ouster because he removed one of two officers assigned to the Northwest Citizens Patrol, an anti-crime group run by Orthodox Jews.

The major stoked the controversy Wednesday night when he addressed supporters at the New Fellowship Christian Community Church and accused Rusty White, who heads the patrol group, of sending secret letters to city officials demanding his removal.

Mr. White, who is visiting Jerusalem, denied the allegation in a telephone interview yesterday. While he acknowledged problems with Major Powell last year, Mr. White said relations are now "perfectly normal."

Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier has postponed transferring Major Powell to headquarters, where he was to head the property division, and has scheduled a meeting for next month with black and Jewish residents to ease tensions. That meeting will be set up by Maj. Jeff Rosen, who was promoted from lieutenant yesterday and was to take over command of the Northwestern District on Monday. He has now been assigned to Mr. Frazier's office.

Major Powell was one of five district commanders ordered transferred as part of a shake-up in command announced Aug. 3. The announcement triggered complaints from the city branch of the NAACP because three of the commanders are black. Major Powell was named to head the property division and oversee a $32 million expansion of police headquarters.

Reacting to the complaints, Mr. Frazier temporarily postponed Major Powell's transfer, at least until after the September meeting. The commissioner yesterday declined to reveal a specific date for the transfer.

"And the question clearly would be, what is temporary?" the commissioner said. "I don't know how long it will take to bring people together and have discussions. . . . There is a possibility that he could remain for some period of time."

A delegation of Major Powell's supporters met with Mr. Frazier and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke earlier this week. They emerged from the meetings with a renewed hope that Major Powell will remain at the Northwestern District.

At his weekly news conference yesterday, Mayor Schmoke said the police commissioner "was very impressed with the outpouring of public support" for Major Powell, adding: "I think the commissioner has decided that Major Powell should continue in his position at the Northwestern."

Major Powell, a 23-year veteran of the department who worked his way up the command chain from street patrol in the Eastern District, said he doesn't know what will happen next.

"I'm just an average guy who happens to be a police major," he said. "I just want things to quiet down. I'm in limbo right now."

He said his comments to supporters Wednesday night, such as, "This is my command, no one else's," were misunderstood. He said he never meant to imply that he would fight orders to leave.

Mr. Frazier said he had no problems with the major's statements.

"I think it's evidence of underlying frustration that's been in the Northwest District for a number of years," the commissioner said.

"I think that we are at a point now where we really can bring responsible leaders together and talk about the underlying issues that have surfaced."

One of the major's supporters, Del. Tony E. Fulton, said yesterday that the commander was showing his appreciation for the community support. "Here is a man who has been quiet all through this," the delegate said. "He didn't want the community to think he took them for granted."

The major said he is sorry the episode has created tensions between some members of the black and Jewish communities. "It should not be this way," he said, explaining that the problems are between individuals, not groups.

Mr. White said he does not have a bad impression of Major Powell now, but he did not feel the same way last summer, during his early dealings with the commander. "It was not a good situation. Differences were not being ironed out," Mr. White said.

Mr. White confirmed that one of the problems was the removal of the officer from the patrol. But he said relations improved after a meeting involving the major and Mr. Frazier in April.

"We spoke frankly about the problems we were having," Mr. White said. "We reached an agreement on how exactly to go forward. Ever since then, relations have been perfectly normal."

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