Black police allege bias Disciplinary action against white officers less severe, they say

August 09, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A group of current and former Baltimore police officers charged at a City Hall hearing yesterday that black members of the force are far more likely than white members to be fired or severely disciplined for misconduct.

Alleging a pattern of discrimination, the black officers testified for several hours before the City Council's Legislative Investigations Committee. A Police Department commander, its chief spokesman and a legal adviser were in the audience, but had not been invited to participate.

The allegations follow a recent report by Donald Reid, a police officer who retired yesterday and who took it upon himself to study the disciplinary process for the past decade. He concluded that of the 139 officers fired since 1985, 99 were black and 37 were white.

In a department of 3,100 members, in which 35 percent are black officers, there is concern among top police officials and minority members of the force that the termination figures are out of proportion.

The city's Community Relations Commission -- a group appointed by the mayor to investigate and resolve discrimination complaints -- backed Reid in 1993 when it concluded there was probable cause to believe the department engaged in discriminatory practices.

Councilman Martin O'Malley, the committee chairman, said those who testified "combined to make a credible case that there is discrimination in the way officers are disciplined in our department."

Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the city police union, said that "whether the allegations are true or not, they need to be investigated. I don't think police officers, whether black or white, have confidence in the system itself. And that should be a major concern to the police commissioner."

One police officer testified that he repeatedly complained to internal investigators about corruption, including officers planting drugs on suspects, throwing drugs away and stealing drugs.

He said that not only were his complaints ignored, he found himself accused of assaulting his ex-girlfriend.

Col. Ronald L. Daniel, chief of the field operations bureau and considered second-in-command of the department, spoke briefly at the end of the hearing and told committee members that the numbers cause concern.

He would not comment later, but said the issues will be discussed with Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier.

Sam Ringgold, the department's chief spokesman, said that each case made public yesterday will be reviewed by commanders, not necessarily to restore jobs, but to ascertain whether a pattern of discrimination exists.

"We have certainly heard allegations of discrimination over the past year, but now we are able to attach names and faces to the charges," Ringgold said. "Now we can go back and review the cases."

Ringgold said the problems may not exist as much with serious disciplinary cases, handled by the Internal Investigation Division, but more with more routine cases dealt with at district station houses.

There, the spokesman said, said some black officers may feel they get harsher treatment than their white colleagues for the same offenses. "That can't be tolerated, if it is what is going on," Ringgold said.

Six African-American current or former department members testified at the hearing. All have been in trouble.

Several had recently been fired for a variety of offenses, including sexual harassment and hitting their girlfriends.

"There is a difference of opinion as to the facts of their testimony," one top department commander said after the hearing. "Everyone we fired should have been fired. But what they are saying is that white officers were not treated the same."

More black officers than white officers were fired in every year this past decade except 1990, when nine whites were terminated. That year, eight blacks lost their jobs.

In 1987, for example, 14 blacks were fired, while two whites were. In 1994, 13 black officers were terminated, along with three whites. In 1995, 16 blacks and three whites were fired.

This year, five black and three white officers have lost their jobs.

O'Malley said he addressed his concerns to Frazier in a June 27 letter, but has yet to hear from the city's top law enforcement officer. He said he may call the department's command staff to a follow-up hearing.

"I think the problem can be solved administratively," O'Malley said. "I'm concerned that we have an Internal Investigation Division that leaves itself open to abuses."

Pub Date: 8/09/96

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