Four years ago, two captains, four inspectors and as assistant chief -- seven of the eight black high-ranking officials on the District of Columbia police force -- met after hours on a chilly evening in early November. The talk was of percentages and clout.
"Back then", recalls Assistant Chief Marty Tapscott, a captain at the time, less than 10 percent of the high-ranking officials in the department were black in a city that was nearly 70 percent black.
"Promotions were coming to blacks extremely slowly and blacks had no real input in policy. We felt we had to unify and try to correct the situation."
The Organization of Black Metropolitan Police Officials was thus born.
Today, the organization has grown to 60. There is a black chief of police and nearly 25 percent of the department's high-ranking officials are black. Blacks and whites are being promoted in roughly equal numbers. And there is a new problem.
Many white officials say now they are being discriminated against.
One of these is Inspector Charles Light, head of the department's morals division and a 20-year veteran of the force.
Last May, Light who says he has been passed over several times for promotions, persuaded the Metropolitan Police Officials Association -- a group of 200 black and white officials above the rank of lieutenant -- to file a formal complaint with the department's equal employment opportunity office, charging Chief Burtell M. Jefferson with discriminating against white officers in top-level promotions.
In their complaint, Light and his supporters charged that because promotions above the rank of captain are made at the discretion of the chief of police with approval of the mayor, "career officials don't know how they stand," a spokesman for the group said at the time.
"There's no procedure, no requirements for evaluation or performance, seniority or training" as there are with lower-ranking officials who must take a civil-service-style test and submit to an evaluation by their superiors.
Therefore, the spokesman said, "every time a white [official] is promoted, a black official is promoted. The number of whites eligible is so much larger than the blacks that the percentages are hurting the whites."
But when the organization reserved itself and rescinded its vote one month later, Light sought another route. He applied to the Organization of Black Metropolitan Police Officials.
"I attempted to join [the blacks' organization] in order to get them to formally condemn racial discrimination in promotions," Light explained recently.
Last week, Light said, "I got a letter indicating that my application had been put before the membership and the majority had voted against it."
The shoe is on the other foot now," said Assistant Chief Tapscott.
Light contends that the black officials association, "had no policy for accepting whites, so when I applied, they had to make a new one." Inspector Issac Fullwood, black association president and director of the department's division of finance and management, said that wasn't the case.
"We have no problem with accepting white officials into our organization, though Light's application was the first . . . Light was voted down because his public posture as it relates to blacks is inconsistent with our ideals.
"We are designed to enhance and advance professional competence in black police officials and to encourage younger officers to study for tests and move up the ranks . . . . We are here to see that blacks advance -- because of past discrimination, we've been put at a disadvantage. I'm not saying that you should discriminate against whites to promote blacks, just that affirmative action has to be used to right past wrongs," Fullwood said.
"In the old days," Tapscott said, "racism played a major part in promotions. Now, race plays a part, but only a part. The chief is looking for competency and loyalty. Ability is more important than seniority or even race."
Many white officers say they, too think that ability should be a major factor in promotions, but wonder if it really is.
"These days," said a white captain who wished not to be identified, "you have to be a member of the 'in crowd' to get promoted.You work hard, do a damn good job and you wait. Then you get passed by, so you wait some more.
"The blacks have taken over the department, and there's not much we can do. We are paying now for the sins committed by others in the past. I've never discriminated against anyone. I'm a symbol, and it don't feel too good."
Despite this captain's perceptions -- and similar ones echoed by other high-ranking white officials, and examination of the numbers show white officials are still clearly in the majority.
In the two years since Jefferson became chief, promotions of blacks have outdistanced those of whites by a ration of 4 to 3. However, while there currently are 47 captains, only eight -- or about 17 percent -- are black. Of 21 inspectors, seven are black. And white deputy chiefs outnumber black deputy chiefs seven to five.
"The tables have begun to turn," said Tapscott. "Jefferson has done a lot to bring that about. But when you think about it, we do work in a community that is mostly black, and the police should reflect that."
Lt. Jim Hampton, president of the Metropolitan Police Officials Association and commanding officer of the department's helicopter unit said, "There is something to be said for more concrete criteria [than race] for promotion in the higher ranks.
"The association has formed an adhoc committee to look into the promotional system and decide what needs to be done. We expect to make some recommendations."
"The system has always worked fine," Tapscott said. "We're just going through a transition period in which whites are finding that the shoe is on the other foot. But they must understand that this is affirmative action."