Frazier pledges to push reforms Police chief says steps already being taken toward racial equity

November 14, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's police chief agreed yesterday that his department has racial problems and vowed to implement reforms proposed in a report that concluded black officers are treated more harshly than white officers when accused of misconduct.

Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said many of the recommendations -- such as making trial boards more diverse and increasing the number of black officers doing internal investigations -- have been under way for months.

"We have made tremendous progress in a lot of areas," Frazier said, speaking publicly on the issue for the first time since the report ordered by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was released Tuesday. "I think we're moving toward equity, but I don't think we're there yet."

Frazier said he plans to distribute the 14-page report to every member of the department -- about 3,500 copies -- and will bring in an outside consultant to hold diversity classes that every employee -- Frazier included -- will be required to attend.

"I think we need to deal with attitudes and ethics," the commissioner said. However, he added: "I don't see the symptoms of widespread discrimination."

The report was written by members of the Community Relations Commission, a panel appointed by the mayor to investigate discrimination claims in city agencies. It follows two City Council hearings in which several black police officers alleged unequal treatment.

The findings supported the allegations that black officers are more likely to be fired or disciplined than their white colleagues. It follows a study by former Officer Donald Reid, who found that in the past decade, 99 black officers were fired compared with 39 white officers.

The report found that from January 1994 through June 1996, 33 black officers were fired and 24 resigned. In the same period, 11 white officers were fired and 12 resigned. The report called that "quite disturbing" for a department in which 38 percent of its 3,100 members are black.

Antoine Travers, a former city police officer who was fired for misconduct last year and who testified at the hearings, said he "lived" with the report's findings from the time he joined the force 10 years ago.

The former officer said he was retaliated against for speaking out against corrupt white officers.

"I think the truth is finally being told and addressed," Travers said. "It's sad that all those years could go by before somebody finally took notice. I guess it's against the law to be an upstanding, outspoken black man in the Baltimore Police Department."

Most of the officers who testified at the hearings in August had been disciplined or fired. After one of the hearings, a top police commander summed up the problem: "Everyone we fired should have been fired. But what they are saying is that white officers are not treated the same."

To combat that problem, Frazier said he is tightening up discretion that field supervisors have in disciplining officers.

For example, every allegation of brutality, racial slurs or rude behavior must be submitted in writing to commanding officers at headquarters. No longer can a sergeant or lieutenant impose their own form of discipline.

But that assumes the supervisor will follow through. "The issue that the report doesn't speak to -- and probably the most difficult to get your hands around -- is what doesn't get reported in the first place," Frazier said.

"Did someone do something that should have been reported and wasn't? I think that's where the real moral, ethical dilemma is."

Pub Date: 11/14/96

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