Blame the system

Police: With current system, it will be years before minorities reach Baltimore County's top levels.

May 19, 2000

IT'S NOT racism that keeps minorities from reaching the top ranks of the Baltimore County police department.

Blame current county law.

The system is structured to favor officers with long periods of service. As a result, it will take a considerable time before a good number of minorities -- many of whom have been hired as part of a diversity push over the past few years -- to reach the department's upper ranks.

Promotions are partially based on passing written exams and oral interviews. But the other ingredient is longevity and there's a step-ladder system that can't be circumvented. A sergeant must first be a corporal, for example; a lieutenant must first be a sergeant.

As a result, it takes years to break into the department's middle management ranks. The average tenure for the department's 22 captains is 19.9 years. The average major has been on the Baltimore County police force for 25 years.

It can take 15 years for a promising minority officer to make captain. That's a problem for a department in which half of the 1,724 officers have fewer than six years on the job.

Most minority officers have less time than that on the force.

Many promising minority officers are also working in specialized units and don't relish leaving those jobs.

Importing minority officers from other jurisdictions won't increase their ranks among officers because the rules say any new hire has to begin at the lowest rank.

In short, it's the law -- not the department's attitude -- that needs changing. The councy council ought to take up the matter.

Chief Terrance Sheridan has encouraged minority and female recruitment and promotion. But how much can he do as long as the current system is in place?

Although time will eventually cure this problem, critics will find little comfort in that solution. A total -- but careful -- revamping of the promotion system is the best way to boost the number of minority police officers now.

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