Frazier outlines police discipline reforms Chief addresses charges of racism at council forum

March 07, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's police commissioner, appearing for the first time at a City Hall hearing on allegations of racism in his department, promised yesterday a series of remedies to address charges of disparate punishment for black and white officers.

The changes include revamping procedures for selection of hearing boards to ensure minority representation and standardizing punishment for officers who have committed the same infractions.

Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, speaking before a hearing room packed with black officers and members of his command staff, said a series of changes "all are under way if they have not reached final implementation."

He said a report by the city's Community Relations Commission that found evidence of racial disparity gave the department an "opportunity to address all kinds of discrimination."

Councilwoman Lois Garey questioned Frazier's statistics that 51 percent of police academy classes are African-American. The last graduation "looked pretty white to me," she said.

Frazier said his numbers represent the last 1,000 officers to graduate, but he promised a class-by-class breakdown.

Yesterday's hearing was the third by the Legislative Investigations Committee, chaired by Councilman Martin O'Malley, who has called for Frazier's resignation. At the two HTC previous hearings, black officers testified about being discriminated against.

The commission's report was released in November and concluded that black officers were more likely to be fired or disciplined than their white colleagues.

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. In a department that is 36 percent black, the trial board conviction rate for black officers for the past 2 1/2 years was 90 percent compared with 60 percent for whites.

Yesterday, Frazier laid much of the blame on front-line supervisors, who often can write up an officer for an infraction or quietly ignore it, thus creating an appearance of disparate treatment before an incident can be properly reviewed.

"The issue has as much to do about who gets into the system in the first place as it does with what happens once you are in the disciplinary process," Frazier said.

The commissioner said that most of the discretion is being taken away. Supervisors are now told that every infraction must be reported.

Also, a complex "matrix" is being developed to even out punishment. For example, no longer will an officer in one district be suspended for a traffic accident while a colleague in another district gets a letter of reprimand.

Frazier said being a member of a hate group can be used as a factor not to hire someone, but once such a person is on the force, it becomes more difficult. But the chief said such an officer would be fully investigated to determine whether his arrest pattern shows bias or if he associates with any "questionable individuals."

The commissioner also said it was "an error in judgment" when a member of the Criminal Intelligence Unit attended recent meetings of the Community Relations Commission and the Vanguard Justice Society.

Frazier said he did not order the officer to attend, but said it would not happen again. "We don't engage in domestic spying."

Pub Date: 3/07/97

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