Police commissioner defends his record in opposing racism Leader of black officers welcomes admission that problem does exist

October 01, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's police commissioner yesterday staunchly defended his efforts to root out racism in the department and confronted critics who charge he has been slow and reluctant to deal with the explosive issue.

"No one denies that racism and inequity exists," said Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier. "We are moving as fast as we can to remedy it. The issue of racism is a high priority for this Police Department."

Frazier made the statements a day after a federal judge overruled city lawyers and made public a deposition taken during a civil discrimination lawsuit. The commissioner, under oath, said racial bias exists on his 3,200-member force.

While Frazier insisted his pronouncement was nothing new, the president of a group that represents black officers said it was the first time the commissioner has made such an admission.

"I'm pleased that it has been said," said Sgt. George Hite, president of the Vanguard Justice Society. "This is the first time that we've heard it loud and clear. It is important to hear him say the words. He sets the tone. He is the commissioner."

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III said the deposition "vindicates the City Council because we have said for years that there has been a problem. It would have been a lot easier for the commissioner to act on what we all knew."

The issue of race that has overshadowed Frazier's tenure refuses to go away. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, who is running for the 44th District state Senate seat, said he will demand Frazier's resignation at a City Hall rally today.

At yesterday's news conference, Frazier declined to address the lawsuit that prompted his deposition. A black helicopter pilot is charging that his transfer was racially biased.

But the commissioner outlined about a dozen reforms he has made to ensure equity in the department. They include revamping how officers are disciplined and putting black commanders in charge of internal investigations, hiring and training.

The department also released a stack of statistics showing that since Frazier was hired four years ago, he has promoted more African-Americans than three black commissioners who preceded him.

Going back to 1984, the department notes that 18.7 percent of the force -- or 567 of the 3,032 officers -- was African-American. Today, 1,139 of the 3,107 officers of all rank are black, or 36.6 percent.

Col. Robert Smith, head of the Field Operations Bureau, said he has served under three black commissioners since joining the force in 1971. "There was racism back then," said Smith, who is African-American. "But no one talked about it. Until Frazier came, nobody ever said that it existed."

But critics have long complained that Frazier, who is white, has been insensitive to their concerns. They charge that reforms began only after officers spoke out about discrimination at City Hall hearings and the city's Community Relations Commission concluded that the force had a problem with racial bias.

Alvin O. Gillard, head of the Community Relations Commission that monitors the Police Department, said he has concerns about disparate treatment.

"I don't think I would characterize where I am now as being satisfied," he said yesterday. "Clearly there is still more work that needs to be done."

Pub Date: 10/01/98

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