Police start racial reforms Department enacts changes to address complaints about bias

'We're not there yet'

Baltimore panel still seeking reason for minority firings

November 04, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Police Department has implemented a series of reforms to address complaints of racism in the way officers are disciplined, and has agreed to be monitored by a city regulatory agency to ensure they are carried out.

But after a year of work, the city's Community Relations Commission, established to review complaints of bias in city agencies, has not determined why a disproportionate number of black officers were fired or disciplined from 1994 to 1996. Members said they would undertake an "exhaustive review" of specific cases in an effort to answer the question.

"We did not undertake this review to determine if this was a racist department or if racism was widespread," Alvin O. Gillard, director of the CRC, said yesterday.

What the commission did was make a list of 11 recommendations to fix the problem of disparate treatment in the disciplinary process, first brought to public attention in August 1996 at City Council hearings.

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier stressed the "cooperative spirit" in which the police and CRC worked but agreed with Gillard that more needs to be done.

"We clearly have two departmental priorities," Frazier said. "One is to do a good job fighting crime. The other is equity within our department. It's a journey, not a destination. We're not there yet."

Gillard praised Frazier for recent changes at the top of the command chain, including putting black officers in charge of hiring, training and personnel.

Black officers make up 38 percent of the 3,200-member force, compared with about 30 percent in 1994 when Frazier took over. At the lowest supervisory rank, the department has 90 black sergeants, compared with 61 three years ago.

Other changes include a commitment to increase the number of minorities serving on disciplinary hearing panels, known as trial boards, and an assurance that a black officer will chair the boards in at least 50 percent of the cases.

The department also has developed a complicated disciplinary "matrix" to ensure that penalties are uniform throughout the department. Also, all administrative charges will be filed by lawyers in the Legal Affairs unit, instead of low-level supervisors, to ensure consistency.

Frazier has warned commanders and supervisors that it is illegal to retaliate against anyone who complains about racism, and he has set up the department's Equal Employment Opportunity Unit at the Brokerage building at Marketplace.

A major complaint at the City Council hearings was the large number of women, many of them black, dismissed from the training academy, many because they were unable to pull the trigger of a handgun. Students complained that women and minorities didn't receive enough training.

A new policy allows more time for firearms training and allowing trainees to attempt to qualify with their guns until the end of the academy, instead of being given only two chances.

As part of the monitoring process, the department has agreed to turn over to the CRC data on minority hires, discipline and terminations on a quarterly basis for the next 18 months. The CRC also will selectively monitor trial board hearings to ensure they are fair.

While Gillard and Frazier praised each other for working together, the process has been far from peaceful.

Strife has troubled the department for months, starting with the City Council hearings and boiling to the top of the command chain with a much-publicized feud between Frazier and one of his top black commanders, Col. Ronald L. Daniel, who has called the chief a racist.

Gillard had publicly chastised Frazier for his handling of the long-running dispute, but yesterday he said that was in the past.

Sgt. Teresa Cunningham, president of Vanguard Justice Society, an organization that represents black officers, said she is pleased with the agreement, but remained cautious. She said the CRC oversight will help assure the public and officers that equality is paramount.

"We need someone from the outside to monitor what is going on in this department," she said after yesterday's news conference. "I do think that more needs to be done to ensure fairness."

Pub Date: 11/04/97

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