Police Chief Faces Drop In Support

Schmoke Reported `Very Angry' As Key Meeting Nears

Council Head Wants Ouster

Frazier Defends Daniel's Suspension Over Remarks

April 25, 1997|By JoAnna Daemmrich, Eric Siegel and Peter Hermann | JoAnna Daemmrich, Eric Siegel and Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

On the eve of a high-level meeting over the leadership crisis in Baltimore's police force, support for Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier eroded yesterday following his aborted suspension of the department's highest-ranking black officer.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who intervened Wednesday night to have the suspension of Col. Ronald L. Daniel lifted, was described by his spokesman last night as "very angry."

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III joined police organizations in calling for Frazier's immediate firing. Other political and community leaders questioned whether the chief could retain the confidence of the city's 3,200-officer force after his suspension of Daniel.

Schmoke has summoned Frazier and Daniel to a meeting this afternoon in an attempt to reconcile the rift between the three-year commissioner and the 24-year veteran commander.

Last night, the commissioner said he had spoken to Schmoke for just "two minutes" to set up the meeting. Asked if he would to resign, Frazier said: "No."

The mayor, who was giving a speech at Frostburg State University, could not be reached directly for comment. His spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman, said: "He intends to have this matter resolved" today.

"I believe the mayor has gone from being concerned to being very angry that this has been allowed to deteriorate to the level it has," Coleman added.

Schmoke has lauded Frazier as one of the best police chiefs in the country, but some of those close to the mayor said the commissioner faced an uphill battle to maintain the mayor's faith in him.

Floods of calls

City Hall was flooded with more than 100 calls, most critical of Frazier, and some angry police officers plan to march today outside police headquarters.

The crisis began Wednesday when Frazier accused Daniel of insubordination for suggesting at an April 17 meeting of black officers that the commissioner step down if he didn't show more commitment to ending racial disparities in the force. After a meeting with the mayor, Frazier reinstated Daniel, one of his top two deputies, but continues to investigate his remarks.

An agitated Frazier said yesterday that he had agreed to rescind Daniel's suspension in "the best interest of the city" but said the police colonel's comments were tantamount to advocating "an overthrow of government."

He acknowledged black officers were "justifiably concerned" about issues of equality in discipline that have been a public concern for years, but added, "I think that with a handful of exceptions, the command staff very strongly supports what I did."

Frazier continued yesterday to insist that he had informed Schmoke beforehand about his investigation of Daniel's remarks and his plans to suspend him. Schmoke's spokesman and other aides to the mayor insist Frazier told him only of the investigation.

But Frazier was roundly criticized for disciplining Daniel for remarks he made at a meeting of the Vanguard Justice Society, which represents half of the department's 1,100 black officers. While Frazier considered the remarks a blatant violation of departmental regulations, critics said Daniel had the right to speak his mind about an important issue.

Bell called for Frazier's immediate resignation, saying, "The damage to morale is irreparable.

`I believe he needs to go'

"I believe he needs to go," said Bell, who made a name for himself four years ago by demanding the ouster of Frazier's predecessor, Edward V. Woods, for failing to bring down the city's nearly one-a-day homicides.

Others made clear they were deeply troubled by Frazier's actions.

Rodney Orange, president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, argued that Daniel's discipline illustrated the very concerns about unfair treatment that black officers have complained about for years.

"What happened to him points out there's no system of discipline," Orange said, adding that the NAACP has asked Frazier for a plan to deal with complaints about discipline disparities. "We don't feel he's moved to address them. He has kept some of the old-boy network in place."

A recent independent report found that black officers are more likely to be fired or disciplined than whites -- evidence of what it characterized as racial discrimination. Frazier says he has implemented more than a dozen of the report's recommendations.

State Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, an Eastside Democrat who chairs the city's Senate delegation, said: "Right now, in East Baltimore, some serious misgivings about Frazier have developed in the last 24 hours."

McFadden, a political ally of the mayor, said he would choose Daniel and his key supporters -- Majors Wendell M. France and Barry Powell -- over Frazier.

"Those individuals are home-grown," he said. "They are native Baltimoreans who have done an outstanding job."

A decision about Frazier's future must be made quickly, McFadden said.

But some cautioned against rushing to judgment.

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