Charges of racism dog city police Differences seen: Swift action needed to address findings of federal job discrimination commission.

December 29, 1998

MOST investigations by the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission involve allegations of bias by private employers. That's why its probe of the Baltimore Police Department's employment practices is unusual. The verdict: African-American officers are treated differently from whites in disciplinary cases and face retaliation if they complain.

Swift action is needed to make sure that such inequities do not persist. The EEOC's finding that the Police Department has "a centralized practice" of disciplining African-American officers more harshly than whites is nothing short of scandalous, if such a practice indeed exists.

We use that caveat advisedly. It may be that Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, in overhauling the disciplinary process over the past 16 months, has substantially corrected many of the disparities alleged by the EEOC. Certainly statistics about officers' involuntary separations suggest that possibility. The previously disproportionately high incidence of terminations, forced resignations and retirements involving black officers has come to reflect the racial makeup of the department more closely during the past year.

As for allegations of retaliation, the Police Department says charges by the complainant, Louis Hopson, are invalid. Mr. Hopson swears he was fired from a sergeant's job for blowing the whistle on department discrimination; the Police Department maintains he was terminated after the state's attorney's office twice complained he had made false statements during Circuit Court appearances.

The Police Department is preparing a written challenge of the EEOC's findings and the way the probe was conducted. As of now, however, the department's reputation has been tarnished.

This is ironic because Mr. Frazier has done more than his predecessors to rid the department of vestiges of institutional racism. Many of his corrective measures -- particularly job rotation -- have been controversial. Some politicians -- including City Councilman Martin O'Malley and Del. Clarence M. Mitchell IV -- have accused the commissioner of evasiveness in responding to questions about various department practices.

The EEOC concerns should be resolved as quickly as possible. The Police Department's work with the citizens of Baltimore is so sensitive, its fairness must be beyond any doubts.

Pub Date: 12/29/98

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