An organization of high-ranking D.C. police officials voted last night to file a formal complaint against Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson, charging that white officers are discriminated against in top-level promotions.

The complaint also will charge that the system of promoting officers from captain and above is "totally discretionary without regard for performance" and unfairly discriminates against both black and white officers, an attorney for the police officials group said.

Attorney Jerome K. Tankel, counsel for the Metropolitan Police Officials Association, said the group will file its complaint with the police department's equal employment opportunity office after preparing the neccessary documentation.

After a formal procedural review by that office, Tankel said, the complaint will be taken to the D.C. Department of Human Rights and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Tankel said about 60 of the association's more than 200 members debated the issue last night during a meeting at 5th District headquarters, 1805 Bladensburg Road NE. Of those present, he said, about six to 10 were black.

Members of the association must be lieutenants or above.

"Both black and white officials freely discussed" the issue, Tankel said. "It was a healthy meeting. A lot of views were expressed and there was a sensitivity to the racial issue. It has not been aired officially [by the group] before," Tankel said.

Tankel said the group voted overwhelmingly to file the complain after an appeal to the members by Inspector Charles Light, commander of the department's morals division.

Tankel said Light feels that the "results of the promotions since Chief Jefferson has been chief could be interpreted as a pattern of racial discrimination."

"The pattern appears to be that every time that a white [official] is promoted, a black official is promoted. The number of whites eligible is so much larger than the blacks the percentages are hurting the whites," Tankel said of Light's complaint.

In addition to the racial complaint, Tankel said, Light, a 20-year member of the force, feels the discretionary system of promoting captains, inspectors, deputy chiefs and assistant chief is unfair.

"It's totally discretionary. Those career officials do not know how they stand. There's no procedure, no requirements for evaluation on performance, seniority or training", Tankel said. "This problem . . . is a problem for the entire department, the black as well as the white officials," Tankel said. "He [Light] doesn't want to hurt the department, he feels it is better for the department."

Officials of the association reached for comment last night referred all inquiries to Tankel. Light, who is a member of the association but not an elected official, declined comment.