Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods has begun the first major reorganization of the city department since the mid-1960s -- a shake-up that is dramatically increasing the number of black officers holding high-level positions.
Sources within the department say that within a year, all but one, or possibly two, of those holding any rank above major in the Baltimore force will be black.
"The handwriting is on the wall," said one white police official, who asked not to be identified.
"Washington, Atlanta, St. Louis -- now Baltimore. This has been coming for the last few years, but now there's no mistaking it. There's very little opportunity left in this department for white officers."
That criticism is rebutted by the department, which insists that promotions are not motivated by race. "We're looking at ways that we can better manage without so much bureaucracy," Commissioner Woods said yesterday in a brief interview.
To that end, the city department is preparing to transfer many downtown detectives to individual districts and to give district commanders wide latitude in their use of available resources.
An $89,000 assessment of the city department prepared by outside consultants last year acknowledges that recent promotions lists have left a perception of racial bias within the force.
"There is a lingering sense of racism within the department, and some resentment of the gains made by minorities," that assessment concluded. "There is also a perception by non-minorities that the chances of promotion beyond captain are nil unless one is a minority."
Privately, white and black commanders alike acknowledge that the changes reflect the desire of city officials for a police force that reflects Baltimore's majority-black community. Two previous black police commissioners, Bishop L. Robinson and Edward Tilghman, took moderate steps in that direction, but under Commissioner Woods, the trend has become pronounced.
For their part, white officers concede that in earlier eras, promotion in the Baltimore department was often limited to Irish officers, or Italians, or based on an officer's religious affiliation.
"It used to be that black officers were excluded," said one white police official, who asked not to be identified. "Now it's their turn, and they're making the most of it. If you look at it that way, you can't really complain."
But if the continuing reorganization of the department is proving racially divisive, it also is serving to limit opportunity for advancement in general. In the long term, the department hopes to eliminate many of the positions now occupied by colonels and lieutenant colonels.
That fact has not been lost on many ranking officers, who see the chance for advancement beyond the rank of major in the Baltimore department narrowing. Over the last few weeks, a string of high-ranking officers have sought employment elsewhere. Thus far, the exodus has been largely limited to whites.
By thinning the upper ranks, the department hopes to return some of the responsibility and resources for policing from the downtown headquarters building to the city's nine police districts. A community-oriented policing plan advocated under last year's assessment argues that district commanders are best equipped to respond to community concerns.
The winners in the department shake-up include Eugene Tanzymore Jr., 49, who has been serving as chief of patrol since June. Mr. Tanzymore, who is black, was promoted to deputy police commissioner in charge of the newly formed Patrol Bureau.
The department eliminated the position of chief of patrol and three area chiefs, placing Deputy Commissioner Tanzymore directly in charge of the patrol force. He will report directly to Commissioner Woods and will command a bureau with an authorized strength of 1,780 sworn personnel -- nearly two-thirds of the total authorized strength of 2,966.
"The Patrol Bureau is the backbone of the department," Commissioner Woods said. "What we have done is eliminate seven levels of bureaucracy so that there will be direct communications with my office."
The appointment of Deputy Commissioner Tanzymore and his command of the patrol division comes at the expense of Deputy for Operations Ronald J. Mullen, who has controlled the patrol and criminal investigation functions of the department for more than a decade.
Deputy Mullen, who is white, is the most senior deputy commissioner in the department and has long handled the daily operations of the force. He did not return a reporter's calls yesterday.
Beyond Deputy Mullen, the only white commanders remaining above the rank of major are Deputy for Services Michael C. Zotos, who will soon leave for a position at the Baltimore City Detention Center; Lt. Col. Joseph R. Bolesta, who recently made himself a candidate for Frederick police chief; and Col. Leon N. Tomlin, chief of the property division, who has been repeatedly passed over for promotion but cannot retire because of pension requirements.
In addition, Col. Joseph P. Newman, commander of the Special Operations Division and one of the leading white candidates for a deputy's post, has announced his retirement and will leave for a position with the state Juvenile Services Administration. Sources within the department say Col. George C. Christian, the black commander of the Investigative Division, is now the likely candidate to replace Deputy Zotos.
Both Colonel Newman and Colonel Tomlin declined to comment on yesterday's announcements.
One white commander was elevated yesterday, however. Capt. John R. Wagner, 49, was promoted to major and was given command of the tactical division. He replaces Regis R. Raffensberger, another white official who retired recently to head the Frederick department.
Acknowledging the sudden exodus of white police officials, a ranking black commander said yesterday that while he doesn't believe the department is denying opportunity to anyone, he acknowledged that the perception of bias may be a problem.
"I think there may be the belief by some people, and that belief may guide people's actions," said the official. "I hope that in time, that can be changed."
Commissioner Woods promised that the shake-up of the department would continue. "There are some more changes coming down the road. There's too much of a shock to do it all at once."