Bias within the ranks Police problem: Simply hiring more black people doesn't end discrimination.

November 18, 1996

EVERYONE WHO COUNTS seems to agree there is bias within the city police department. The mayor does. The chief does. Even the Fraternal Order of Police says something is wrong, although it has been careful not to call it bias. Now an examination by the Baltimore Community Relations Commission has concluded black officers on the force are more likely to be disciplined or fired than white officers.

Since so many recognize there is a problem, why hasn't more been done to correct it before now? The answer may be that the people in charge thought they were doing more about it. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier deserve credit for bringing to 38 percent the proportion of Baltimore's 3,100 officers who are black. They are finding out now, though, that simply having more black people around doesn't erase all vestiges of a culture that never really considered African Americans as equals.

Chief Frazier says he is ready to do more. He is increasing the number of black internal investigators and will make sure disciplinary review boards are more racially balanced. But his biggest challenge will be changing the way people think about someone of another race. Black officers complain that they get written up for doing the same things that they see white officers get away with. It's the chief's job to see that no one gets away with anything.

Toward that end, Mr. Frazier is taking away some of the discretion of field supervisors in disciplinary cases. Sergeants and lieutenants must submit in writing to police headquarters all allegations of brutality, rude behavior or racial slurs. How much they actually report may depend on the success of diversity classes that the chief says every officer will be required to attend. If officers learn to treat everyone the same way, the results will be seen not only in the department but on the street. They may find cooperation where they never found it before.

Pub Date: 11/18/96

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