High court rules against city police on reserves issue


WASHINGTON -- Baltimore's Police Department lost out in the Supreme Court yesterday as it sought the right to limit the number of officers who may be in the military reserves at any one time.

The justices turned aside the department's appeal in a brief order and, following its usual custom with such orders, did not offer an explanation.

That outcome, however, had been foreshadowed a month ago when the court ruled, in another case, that federal law gives full protection for the rights of civilians to join military reserve units and to get time off for training.

Employers, the court had decided in December, may take no action against workers who choose to sign up as reservists, even if the demands that the military puts on the reservists seem "unreasonable" to the employer.

That ruling was similar to one that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had issued in early 1990 in the Baltimore police case. The Circuit Court had nullified a city police regulation that set a maximum of 100 on the number of police officers who at any one time could belong to military reserve units.

That regulation had been challenged by Eric Kolkhorst, a former Marine Corps captain who had joined the Baltimore force in June 1982. Later, he joined a reserve unit, but the department took no action then to force him to resign.

In 1986, however, Officer Kolkhorst got orders to go to summer camp with his Marine Reserve unit and asked for time off. The department, however, denied his leave request and told him to resign from the reserve unit because of the 100-officer limit.

Mr. Kolkhorst, who has since left the department and is now an auto mechanic in Keyser, W.Va., sued the department and won a right to go back into the reserve unit. He also won $4,164 -- the amount of military pay and benefits he had lost when he left the unit in 1986.

The Supreme Court's order yesterday makes final his victory in lower courts.

Dennis S. Hill, a police spokesman, said the Police Department's policy limiting active-duty reservists was changed last year as a result of court decisions elsewhere.

"The quota was originally set up as management assurance that we would not lose a debilitating number of essential police personnel during a military call-up," he said.

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