A shake-up of the city police command staff -- intended to reinvigorate the department and address concerns that blacks were being treated unfairly -- has instead heightened racial tensions.
Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier is winning praise for some moves, but he is being criticized for making the highest-ranking black commander share his job with another colonel and dividing those they supervise along racial lines.
In a city where race is often a significant issue, even routine reshuffling in the police hierarchy is scrutinized. These changes are sweeping and come one month after the Community Relations Commission confirmed allegations of racial discrimination on the force.
Thirteen staff changes go into effect today. Most are lateral transfers, but a handful of promotions -- including a black major to colonel -- are to take place at a ceremony in the commissioner's board room.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is watching the situation closely, worried that negative public reaction to the job split at the top of the police command chain might overshadow any possible benefit.
"I raised with [Frazier] that there might be a perception problem," he said yesterday. "If the perception issue outweighs the policy issue, then he may have to reconsider how he has divided it."
Frazier is putting black commanders in charge of hiring, internal investigations and training -- some of the most critical areas of the department that the report blamed for discriminatory practices.
But the commissioner is forcing Col. Ronald L. Daniel to share his job as chief of the Field Operations Bureau, the largest command on the force, overseeing 2,500 of the department's 3,200 officers. Daniel will oversee all three black district commanders and two white district commanders; Col. John E. Gavrilis, who is white, will oversee four white commanders.
Reaction to the command changes has been varied within the department. The president of the police union called the job-share "insulting" because of the racial split; the head of a black officers group said the new black commanders would "help create an environment of fairness."
Frazier called the reactions predictable: "Anytime you disturb the comfort zone, you will create some negative commentary," he said.
The commissioner, who has been credited with improving relations with the city's African-American community, now faces racial friction in his department. "On the heels of the [Community Relations Commission] report, all anyone is looking at is black and white," one top police commander said. "They should be looking at blue."
The split in field operations is widely viewed as diluting the
power of Daniel, who was considered second in command of the department. Critics are further angered that Daniel's and Gavrilis' supervisory responsibilities are largely split along racial lines.
"On one hand, we fixed it," a top police official said, referring to black officers taking over Internal Affairs, Education and Training, and Human Resources. "On the other hand, we created two police departments -- one white and one black."
Officer Gary McLhinney, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said the Daniel-Gavrilis split "seems a little ridiculous. 00 There will be no unity of command. Anytime you have two people of equal rank running the same group of individuals, you are going to have conflict."
McLhinney said the racial breakdown of command "sends the wrong message. It says that we are making decisions based upon race and that only white officers can be led by a white commanders and black officers by black commanders. It's insulting. If we picked a jury in a criminal case the same way we are picking police commanders, it would be viewed as illegal."
Alvin O. Gilliard, director of the Community Relations Commission and author of the report, said the racial split "is a cause for concern. I think the natural question to ask is why? What is the need?"
Gavrilis, who is to be promoted to colonel from major today, said he is excited about the move. "We will speak with one voice," Gavrilis said, adding that each commander took over districts they are most familiar with. On the racial breakdown, he noted: "I think it just happened that way. I don't think anyone thought of it."
Others see the move as a personal affront to Daniel, who declined comment for this article. "The commissioner whacked Colonel Daniel off at his knees," McLhinney said. "This was a slap at a person who Frazier perceives as a threat."
Suggested months ago
Frazier said the split in Field Operations was recommended 18 months ago, when a white commander, Col. Leon N. Tomlin, was in charge. But Tomlin suffered a heart attack and Frazier said he was forced to move Daniel into Tomlin's slot a year before he had planned.
The commissioner also said that when the split was first talked about, one of the district commanders who would have been under Gavrilis was black. That changed before the plan could be implemented.
"A year from now, it may well look differently," Frazier said, adding that he wants the Eastern and Western districts to fall under one commander.
The commissioner said he divided the Field Operations Bureau to give top police commanders more time to meet residents -- he wants them to spend one-third of their time out of the office -- and because the responsibilities were so large.
"I've heard about" [the perception problem], he said of the racial breakdown in Gavrilis' and Daniel's responsibilities. "I don't think it's a valid analysis. The process is ever-evolving. It's a real disservice to the individuals involved to look at one moment in time and make those kind of judgments." The chief stressed that he has "total confidence" in Daniel.
Most people interviewed for this article spoke only on the condition they not be named, echoing the sensitivity of the subject being discussed. Most of the interviews split along racial lines -- whites dismissing the complaints as groundless and blacks calling the situation a matter of serious concern.
But privately, some white commanders voiced their displeasure. "Look at the race," said one when asked about the reason for the changes.
The three white officers who are being moved from their positions overseeing training, hiring and internal investigations -- Col. Joseph R. Bolesta, Maj. Robert Novak and Maj. John Reintzell -- agreed publicly that their transfers were nothing more than routine rotation, which Frazier wants to do every 30 to 36 months.
"It's time for me to move on now and broaden my horizons," said Reintzell. Added Novak: "My time is up."
The Vanguard Justice Society, a group that represents black officers, is concerned with the racial split in field operations. But the organization's president, Sgt. Teresa Cunningham, said she is pleased with the new heads of training, hiring and internal investigations, saying they would "help create an environment of fairness." Frazier said he took into account black officers' concerns. He met with Vanguard members for two hours before making his staff changes official.
"They discussed their feelings about equity and perception," the commissioner said. "They said, 'It seems like there are lots of issues around academy training. We've never had an African-American as head of the training academy.' If I can deal with that issue, I think it's for the organizational good."
Pub Date: 12/11/96