Police bias dispute may stem from boards

October 25, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

THE SENATOR-ELECT from the state's 44th Legislative District stood out in front of City Hall, surrounded by the usual suspects.

Del. Clarence Mitchell IV was there to reiterate what he had said in a news release: Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier should resign or be fired. It was one day after this paper revealed that Frazier had testified that there was a disparity in the number of black officers fired for disciplinary reasons.

"We have bodies upon bodies of African-American officers who have been terminated," Mitchell said.

He further charged that since trial boards were reinstituted late last year -- in a move that smelled suspiciously of an attempt to get rid of Officer Charles Smothers, who shot knife-wielding James Quarles to death in August 1997 -- only one white officer has been fired. Before that, trial boards had been suspended, primarily because of the issue of disparity in discipline.

(Department officials say they have fired or forced the resignations of 14 black officers and 15 white officers since trial boards resumed in November.)

Mitchell didn't say how many blacks had been fired, but Sgt. Louis Hopson was one of them. A trial board determined he had made a false statement during a Circuit Court trial. Hopson swears he was canned for blowing the whistle on discrimination within the department.

Mitchell said he attended Hopson's trial board and was stunned at how the board members grilled Hopson continuously with the same question in an attempt to get him to admit making a false statement.

Christine Boyd was on the force five years before she was fired Jan. 10. She was canned for the same reason Hopson was -- making a false statement. So that's three black officers axed since trial boards were reinstated.

Phillip Brown, a private citizen determined to make the Police Department more accountable, smells a rat somewhere. He noted that Hopson got the boot but that a white officer, Stephen Cohen, got a virtual wrist-slap rebuke, a five-day suspension, for calling blacks "ghetto monkeys." Frazier swore in his deposition that he would fire anyone using a racial slur. Apparently, "ghetto monkey" doesn't qualify as a racial slur, unless, of course, you're the sluree.

"If the mayor was quick to say Susan Gaffney [the Housing and Urban Development Department inspector general who picked Baltimore for investigation] was a racist," Brown questioned, "why doesn't he listen to black officers' complaints about Frazier?"

Brown said that for years, the city has used a Band-Aid approach to problems of discrimination and racial disparity in discipline within the police force.

"We put a Band-Aid on the wound, and a few months later the Band-Aid is wet with blood again," Brown said.

Mitchell agreed that the problem didn't start with Frazier. Removing him, Mitchell contends, would be just a start. The commissioner had known of this problem for years and still hasn't come up with a solution. So the delegate came up with some of his own -- seven to be exact.

He wants the department to stop retaliating and harassing whistle-blowers.

He feels there should be a "full review of department action [and] conduct in Criminal Investigation Unit and Internal Investigation Division investigations."

He demands a review of the circumstances of all officers fired since 1993, computerization of the trial board selection process, immediate suspension of trial board cases and a review of those conducted from 1993 through 1996, implementation of the City Council's recommendation of a new trial board process and an implementation of the Community Relations Commission recommendations with goals and reasonable timetables.

But let's toss out the potatoes and get straight to the meat here. The problem is the trial board process. It's got to be revamped so that the commissioner -- for his own protection -- is removed from the process.

Let's assume Hopson is wrong about the department's wanting to get him for blowing the whistle on discrimination. The commissioner is still tainted because the officers on the trial board are still accountable to Frazier.

The same is true if Hopson is telling the truth. The bottom line is John and Jane Q. Citizen are still left with doubts about whether a trial board ultimately accountable to the commissioner acted fairly or at the behest of Frazier.

"We can't simply call for his resignation," Mitchell insisted. "We keep replacing faces. We must make a structural change to remove the bias element."

Pub Date: 10/25/98

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