Despite pressure from police officers and its own leadership, the Baltimore City Council stopped short last night of seeking the ouster of Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier and instead demanded that he immediately deal with deep racial disparities in the force.
Taking a no-nonsense stance, the council gave the police chief a 30-day deadline to show progress in resolving long-standing complaints of unfair treatment of black officers.
But the 19-member council resisted calls from its president, police labor organizations and some community leaders who want Frazier to step down in the wake of his aborted suspension last week of the department's highest-ranking African-American officer.
"It's a bigger issue than that," said 4th District Councilwoman Sheila Dixon. "There's a very serious issue with discipline and promotions. and that's where we need to stick."
The council's insistence that Frazier act on a report documenting a pattern of discrimination in the 3,200-officer force drew applause from dozens of officers in the room. But many also expressed disappointment that the council did not go further.
"What we want is justice and fairness," said Sgt. Richard A. Hite Jr., vice chairman of the Vanguard Justice Society, which has as members about half of the department's 1,100 black officers and is urging Frazier's resignation. "We hope they will make a stronger statement."
The police uproar began Wednesday when Frazier suspended Col. Ronald L. Daniel, his top deputy, for insubordination, only to be overruled by the mayor. Frazier's actions provoked an outcry in the city's police and political establishments because Daniel was disciplined for critical remarks he had made about racial disparities at a meeting of fellow black officers.
Council President Lawrence A. Bell III had wanted to introduce a resolution last night calling for Frazier's resignation but found he didn't have enough support.
"I question whether the damage that has been done can be repaired," Bell said to murmurs of assent from the standing-room crowd. "We cannot allow anything that even appears to be spying for political purposes. We cannot have officers afraid if they meet privately that Big Brother will be there monitoring."
Bell held out the hope of making the demand next week, telling reporters: "It's not a dead issue at all. It's still evolving. The commissioner cannot repair the damage and probably needs to move on."
Other council members rejected the notion, and said they wanted to see if the city's top two officers could work together under a mayoral order. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke sent Frazier and Daniel back to their jobs Friday with a stern directive to resolve their differences and come up with a plan in 90 days to address wide-ranging internal policy problems.
The two men, who have been publicly silent, have had "a series of confidential meetings" since then, said Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a police spokesman. He wouldn't characterize the meetings, but said, "The department is encouraged and hopeful these meetings will be a constructive step toward moving the department in a positive direction."
Several police officers and community leaders said last night they believe the leadership crisis is being prolonged. But others supported the cooling-off period.
"We know that this is a very unusual situation that has transpired, but we are looking at the same color that the mayor is looking at -- blue," said Cleoda Walker, president of the Southern District Police Community Relations Council, which represents 65 organizations. "We are seeing progress in our neighborhoods."
Agnes Welch, the council vice president, introduced last night's resolution urging Frazier to address racial inequalities on the force.
The nonbinding resolution, unanimously adopted by the council, cites findings and recommendations of the Community Relations Commission, an independent race monitoring group that confirmed in November a pattern of unfair police discipline.
"After nearly one year of probing by the City Council and [commission], trial boards remain suspended, questions remain unanswered and substantive reforms have yet to be implemented," the resolution states.
Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who represents West Baltimore's 4th District, pushed through the resolution's one-month deadline for Frazier.
"We're tired of the foot-dragging," he said.
Pub Date: 4/29/97