Tension mounted last week between black police officers in Prince George's County and their white-dominated union, the Fraternal Order of Police, when the union refused to follow through on concerns that the black officers raised about job promotions.
Some black officers began talking again about forming a separate union.
Last month, about 120 black officers formed the Black Police Officers' Association to address the professional needs and concerns of its members. The new organization presented a 15-point list of concerns to FOP Local 89, the bargaining unit for county police officers. That list of issues also was sent to the county executive's office.
In general, the list requests that steps be taken to ensure racial balance throughout the department.
Among the requests: Immediate promotion of black officers to all ranks, reflective of the present racial balance, and formulation of a promotion plan that would ensure parity in promotions, to include, if necessary, separate promotion lists.
The black officers also want to do away with seniority as a promotional consideration, and they want to have blacks assigned to promotion, transfer and disciplinary boards and to the Internal Affairs Unit.
Last week, the FOP turned thumbs down on supporting most of the items on the list. The union's written response was mailed to all FOP members. Most of the FOP responses said that while the union does not control personnel matters, it is supportive of racial fairness in the department, but the union disagreed on the methods for achieving those goals.
The FOP opposed proposals for immediate promotions of blacks to all ranks and the elimination of the seniority criteria and is vigorously against the idea of separate promotion lists. And while the FOP supports having a black in Internal Affairs, it is opposed to transferring a white officer involuntarily to accomplish this.
"We are very disappointed with their response," Cpl. Ed Adams, a spokesman for the black officers' association, said last week. He said there has long been a feeling among black officers that the police department is not interested in correcting past inequities.
Some of the black officers in the new organization threatened to resign from the FOP last week, but the final decision will be voted on by the all members of the Black Police Officers' Association in October.
Cpl. Larry Bowman, 38, a robbery detective and president of the new group, maintains that separate promotion lists and establishment of jobs by executive appointment may, for the moment, be the only way to "infiltrate blacks into the upper ranks."
FOP president Mahlon Curran insists that such an approach is "reverse discrimination."
"There's going to be a tremendous amount of unrest," Curran said, if blacks with lower test scores or fewer years in service are promoted ahead of whites.
But Bowman says he expects a certain amount of animosity--he calls it "growing pains"--between black and white officers until blacks catch up in rank.
About 140 of Prince George's County's 900 police officers are black. Currently, there are 113 black privates, 17 PFCs and eight corporals, five of whom are on the promotion list for sergeant. There are no black lieutenants, captains or majors.
Two black officers hold supervisory positions: Lt. Col. Tom Davis, formerly a civilian instructor at the police academy, and Sgt. Kenneth Savoid, head of the safety education division, who joined the department in 1969 and is the department's only black sergeant.
Black officers and department officials agree that, for the most part, the problem stems from the fact that blacks haven't been in the department long enough to accrue enough seniority to compete with white officers for promotions. The first two blacks were hired in 1967, but the bulk of black officers was not brought into the department until after 1974.
In addition, Curran and department officials acknowledge there are too few supervisory positions available to all officers waiting on promotion lists.
"The problem is not the promotion system as much as it is the retirement system," Curran said, explaining it is usually more lucrative for officers to stay on duty than to collect retirement pay that does not increase with the cost of living.
Bowman said last week his organization is waiting to see how County Executive Parris Glendening will respond to the list of concerns because many involve personnel changes that could only be approved by the executive.
A spokesman for Glendening said the executive supports better promotional opportunities for blacks but will not consider a specific plan of action until after the new chief of police is confirmed by the County Council.
The current chief, John McHale, and the nominee to replace him, Maj. Mike Flaherty, have said they recognize that blacks are at a disadvantage under the current promotional system.
The day after his nomination was announced, Flaherty said he wants to meet with black officers to discuss their problems.