90 Days To End Police Feud Enough?

Time Too Short, Crisis Prolonged, Some Say

April 27, 1997|By Peter Hermann and JoAnna Daemmrich | Peter Hermann and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

In the crowded roll-call room at Baltimore's Southeastern District, several dozen police officers had just gotten their orders Thursday afternoon when two of them strode past the podium and took down a photograph of Col. Ronald L. Daniel.

Today, Daniel's portrait is back, right below the photograph of Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier.

After a nasty feud between the city's top officers turned into a three-day public spectacle, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke sent both back to their jobs with a stern directive to resolve their differences and deal with the deep leadership divisions they have worsened.

The mayor hopes they can put their ill will behind them. But skeptics in the city's political and police establishments believe the 90-day cooling-off period he ordered Friday will only prolong the crisis in the police force's highest ranks.

"There is an element of distrust here," said state Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Northeast Baltimore Democrat. "I don't think 90 days is long enough for the healing process to begin."

The leadership crisis extends beyond Frazier and Daniel into ranks split as much by personal ambition and personality differences as by race. Officers are far from unanimous in their opinions of Frazier. Now, many are in warring camps.

Frazier suspended Daniel, his top deputy, for insubordination in midweek, only to be overruled by the mayor. Frazier's discipline of Daniel, the highest-ranking African-American officer, triggered an uproar because it grew out of critical remarks Daniel had made about racial disparities at a meeting of fellow black officers.

On Friday, with police labor organizations and a number of elected officials demanding Frazier's ouster, Schmoke summoned the two to his office and ordered them to work it out.

It was a swift and pragmatic move, demonstrating he was in control, but Schmoke has now bought himself three months of pressure from anti-Frazier forces.

Already, several City Council members are drafting a resolution that will be introduced tomorrow night calling for Frazier's resignation and supporting the Fraternal Order of Police and the Vanguard Justice Society, which represents half of the 1,100 black officers.

Frazier and Daniel, abiding by a mayoral order, have not talked to reporters since Friday.

While the turmoil continues, the department's top leaders sent a letter of support to Frazier on Friday, signed by all but five of the 32 commanders, according to Col. John E. Gavrilis, who shares command of the Field Operations Bureau with Daniel.

"It is incumbent upon us to now proclaim without reservation that our confidence in your leadership is complete and continues unabated," the letter states.

Still, Frazier, 52, is left in what is, at best, an awkward position. His authority undercut by the mayor, the chief returns to work tomorrow with his command structure seemingly fractured. Two majors who back Daniel are in open revolt yet remain in their jobs.

Frazier is likely to face an uphill battle to regain full confidence of his 3,200-officer force. He also believes that Daniel was plotting a coup with the two majors. But the mayor ordered him to stop his investigation of Daniel, and now he must return to work with them.

For his part, Daniel, 47, was sharply critical at the April 17 Vanguard meeting of Frazier's handling of complaints of racial disparities in discipline and promotions.

Shortly after arriving from San Jose, Calif., in 1993, Frazier promoted Daniel, himself a candidate for the job of commissioner.

But their relationship has soured in the past year. Frazier forced Daniel to split his job with another colonel at a time when Daniel felt he was shown off as an example of racial progress at City Hall and at General Assembly hearings on race in the force.

In December, the discord grew when the Community Relations Commission, an independent agency that monitors racism complaints in city agencies, issued a report confirming a pattern of racial discrimination in the discipline of police officers.

Daniel and many other officers accused Frazier of having failed to take the concerns seriously enough before the report.

After meeting with officers last week, 5th District Councilwoman Helen L. Holton said she questions whether the chief has adequately addressed the findings.

"I am worried because in my mind, it's not over," she said. "Inside the force, there are all the issues there are on the outside -- the distrust, the anger. How can an organization deal with what's going on on the outside when they aren't doing it well on the inside?"

Still, in the first three years of his employment contract, which extends to 2002, Frazier has bolstered minority representation among supervisors in a force that is now 36 percent black.

More than 35 percent of his promotions to sergeant or higher have been minorities, compared with a 23 percent average for three previous commissioners.

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