Report backs bias claims of city police Black officers fired, disciplined more than whites, panel finds

Trend called 'disturbing'

Commission to oversee 'plan of corrective action,' mayor says

November 13, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Black police officers in Baltimore are more likely to be fired or disciplined than their white colleagues, disparate treatment that shows evidence of racial discrimination, according to a report released yesterday.

Investigators found that while a majority of internal probes involve white officers, the majority of allegations that were proved to be true involve blacks, which the report termed a "disturbing" trend. Blacks make up 35 percent of the 3,100-member department.

The 14-page report was ordered by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and completed by the city Community Relations Commission, an independent panel that investigates discrimination claims in city agencies.

The commission offers several recommendations -- including that a core group of officers sits on trial boards and that blacks chair the boards in at least half the cases -- but also calls for further reviews to determine why problems occur.

In most respects, the report supports allegations made by several black officers who testified at two City Council hearings that they were treated more harshly than white officers faced with the same or similar charges.

Schmoke said last night that the commission "did a good job, but more needs to be done." He said it is clear that racial problems exist at all levels of the disciplinary process, from low-level supervisors to top commanders.

"It is very clear that there are decisions made at every level that affect discipline," the mayor said. "We have got to make sure that we do all we can to make sure decisions are fair at every level." To do that, Schmoke said "changes in attitudes" are needed from police.

But Schmoke also said he is satisfied that Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier will make the required changes, and he said that he wants the Community Relations Commission to monitor "a plan of corrective action."

Sam Ringgold, a Police Department spokesman, said Frazier will comment on the report today. Last week, the commissioner shifted responsibility for handling the department's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints from Col. Joseph Bolesta, who is white, to Maj. Kenneth Blackwell, who is black.

The report was written by Alvin O. Gillard, the commission chairman, and Walter Shook, the acting assistant director for programs. The authors said they did not delve deeply into or make "comparisons of the hundreds of cases of discipline."

The report bases its conclusions on statistics, not on the merits of specific allegations.

"Based on the data and testimony compiled during this review, it appears that there are problems of discrimination based on race within the Baltimore City Police Department," the report concludes.

The review started in August after the first of two City Council hearings based on a report by a retired officer, Donald Reid, who conducted his own study and found that for the past decade, 99 black officers were fired, compared with 39 white officers.

Top police commanders never disputed the figures. Schmoke agreed the department had a problem and ordered the police chief to deal with the explosive issues quickly.

Frazier vowed to make changes to ensure "equal discipline for equal infractions." He said he increased the number of black internal investigators and promised to ensure that trial boards were racially balanced.

Trial boards are made up of three officers who decide the guilt or innocence of officers and recommend punishment.

The first three members chosen are of the same race as the accused, but each side can exercise pre-emptive strikes, changing the composition.

From January 1994 to June 1996, white officers typically heard cases of whites accused of misconduct, while black officers typically presided over black employees, the report says. But the JTC investigators concluded that blacks are more likely to end up with a white board chairman.

The report concludes that from January 1994 to July 1996, 33 black officers were fired and 24 resigned. During the same time, 11 white officers were fired and 12 resigned. The report calls the numbers "quite disturbing."

The disparity increases sharply for officer trainees. Of the 19 trainees who were fired in the past 2 1/2 years, 17 were black and two were white. One white could not meet the firearms requirements and another had a knee injury. Both were later rehired.

Ten black trainees were fired because of the firearms standards, but none was rehired. Of the other black trainees, one was fired because of an injury, one because he lied during a background check and others because of misconduct or poor performance.

"No white trainees were released for conduct and/or performance problems," the report concludes. Trainees have no right to a trial board or an appeal.

In internal investigations, the report says that from 1994 to 1996, 429 cases involved white officers and 329 focused on black officers. But most of the allegations that were proved true were against black members of the force.

The investigation found that the trial board conviction rate for black officers for the past 2 1/2 years was 90 percent compared with 60 percent for whites. Of the eight whites found not guilty, four had been charged with excessive force and two had been accused of using racial slurs.

One problem area for the department cannot be borne out by numbers. Officers complained to investigators that "supervisors are selective when filing complaints against subordinates."

Black officers said that many infractions committed by white officers are simply overlooked, while black officers get investigated.

"This is, perhaps, the most difficult area to review, but it is also where the greatest opportunity exists for illegal discrimination to occur," the report concludes.

The report also heard from officers who said that blacks who complain about the misconduct of white officers "are retaliated against by being subjected to investigations themselves."

Pub Date: 11/13/96

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