This is the first of two profiles of candidates for D.C. mayor.
Maurice T. Turner Jr. was at the pinnacle of his power in early 1986, his fifth year as D.C. police chief. Once an $80-a-week beat cop, he had risen in three decades to command a force that ended the previous year with a remarkable coup, driving the city's homicides to its lowest point in 19 years, to 148.
Then came crack cocaine.
Fueled in large part by violence associated with trafficking in the potent cocaine derivative, D.C. homicides surged to 197 in 1986, then jumped to 227 in 1987. The numbers got staggeringly worse: a record 372 homicides in 1988 and then 438 in 1989, the year Turner retired.
Today, as Turner seeks to become mayor of a city that many experts say is experiencing its bloodiest year yet, his campaign is haunted by the drug-related violence that occurred on his watch as police chief.
Hardly a day goes by without a voter asking the Republican nominee how he as mayor would cope with the kind of crime he seemed helpless to contain when he was police chief.
It is a painful question for the powerfully built, affable District native, a former Marine described by friends as a cop's cop, a man who less than two weeks before Election Day dropped everything to drive deep into Maryland for the wake of a retired white officer who took Turner under his wing in 1965, when there were only five other black sergeants in the entire police department.
For 32 years, Turner believed in, and was nurtured by, the brotherhood of the badge, even in the days when he was barred from riding in cruisers with fellow officers who were white. He still upholds the old traditions, defending his former colleagues as much as his own reputation.
"We were faced with some of the most complex and complicated problems in this city," Turner told a group of ministers in Northeast last week.
"Everybody looks upon the police department as the final solution to the problem," Turner said. "The police department is not going to be the final and concluding solution to the problem."
Few law enforcement experts believe that police departments or their chiefs can reduce drug-related violence single-handedly. Yet some of Turner's staunchest supporters in and outside the D.C. police department fault him for not being more aggressive -- especially with his former boss, Mayor Marion Barry -- in obtaining the personnel and other resources needed to deal with the crack crisis.
"In terms of Turner making his stands for more manpower, I say, yeah, he could have been more forceful," said Lt. Lowell K. Duckett, a 21-year member of the department who heads the D.C. Black Police Caucus, which has endorsed Turner.
"I'm not going to excuse the fact that, hey, he dealt with his immediate boss," Duckett added. "His patience drew short later on down the line, whereas my patience would have been right there on my shirt sleeve a long time ago."
Officer Gary Hankins, chairman of the labor committee of the Fraternal Order of Police, said Turner should have broken publicly with Barry during the years the mayor sought to reduce the overall size of the police department.
"We were being decimated and he would not speak out against it," said Hankins, whose union endorsed Turner. "The mayor was his boss and he was being a good soldier . . . . You can fault Turner for the murders in that as chief he allowed resources to be diminished and us to lose the streets to drug dealers."
Turner said recently that had he anticipated the appearance of crack in the spring of 1986, he would have acted sooner and more forcefully to secure additional officers to patrol drug-infested neighborhoods and alert families and the clergy to the problem.
"It's 20-20" hindsight, Turner added. "Now they see the impact of what crack cocaine does."
Turner also pointed out -- and police department data confirm -- that other categories of serious crime, including rapes and robberies, declined or stabilized in his eight years as chief, a period when the city's population also declined.
Violent crime, notably assaults and homicides, rose as more and more illegal drugs, especially crack, made it to the District's streets. By March of last year, a visibly agitated Turner told reporters that police could do little else to stop the killing until drug gangs finished battling over turf.
"What more do you want us to do?" he said. "We arrested 43,000 last year. What the hell is the police department going to do?"
Turner joined the department two weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, after a three-year tour in the Marine Corps, which he entered fresh out of high school because he thought the dress blue uniform of a Marine looked sharp.
Isaac Fulwood Jr., who became chief last summer, remembers Turner's arrival in Fulwood's old precinct as a newly minted sergeant.
As Turner drove up in his own car and loped toward the precinct house, "We couldn't see any sergeant stripes right away," Fulwood said. "As he got closer to the building, we saw this was a black sergeant. And we smiled, 'Damn, we're getting a black sergeant.' "
"It was a tremendous feeling just to see a black person who had now been promoted in a department that was still very segregated," he said.
Turner climbed steadily up the chain of command, heading recruiting as a lieutenant, serving as a captain in the 5th District, commanding that district as an inspector, running the Youth Division as a deputy chief and then field operations as an assistant chief, the second-highest rank in the police department.
Former D.C. police chief Jerry V. Wilson, Turner's onetime boss, recalls Turner as a "very competent" officer.
Wilson said Turner skillfully handled two delicate assignments: monitoring the 1968 march on Washington of the Poor People's Campaign after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and attracting more black officers as head recruiter during a time of racial upheaval in the city.
As chief, Turner was widely regarded as an honest and accessible, if not particularly dynamic, administrator of nearly 4,000 employees and a $217 million annual budget. Accustomed to doing things by the book, Turner the manager was thoroughly old-school, or, as Deputy Chief Edward J. Spurlock put it, "personally not prone to extremes."
Turner, say his former comrades, often took a personal interest in the outcome of tough criminal investigations, going out of his way to congratulate street-level officers for jobs well done. The chief also worked to make the climate in the department more hospitable to homosexual officers.
At the same time, Turner showed little interest in day-to-day management and certain aspects of long-range planning, particularly in the latter years of his administration, according to police officials.
"He was a laissez-faire administrator, which means he let the department drift," particularly in marshaling its resources to combat crack, said Hankins, one of Turner's harshest critics.
Spurlock and others say that despite a certain conservatism, Turner occasionally showed flashes of innovation, such as the nationally imitated Repeat Offenders Project, which aggressively targets career criminals. Turner also won praise from his officers for ordering in 1988 that they be armed with 9mm semiautomatic weapons to better compete against criminals using those and automatic firearms.
Other police initiatives in the Turner years went awry, or were only partly successful. For example, Operation Clean Sweep, begun in August 1986 in response to the influx of crack, resulted in thousands of arrests but broke overtime budgets and clogged courts, and now is regarded by many senior police officials as an inefficient use of officers and funds.
Turner himself declared, in late 1988, that Clean Sweep had done nothing to curb drug use in the District.
One botched operation was a two-year drug investigation known as Operation Caribbean Cruise, which culminated in February 1986 with searches of 68 locations. The raids had dismal results -- the seizure of 20 pounds of marijuana and small quantities of other drugs -- not the large volume of drugs and guns that police had expected. There were only 28 arrests in the case, but all charges were later dropped. The city also agreed to pay $400,000 to residents who filed suits after their homes were searched.
The police department's Internal Affairs Division found that there were widespread leaks about Caribbean Cruise that contributed to the operation's botched outcome.
Turner's administration was also marred by allegations in 1987 that some narcotics officers in the 4th District, which covers north central Washington, may have kept narcotics and money seized during drug raids. Joseph E. diGenova, then the U.S. attorney, dismissed several hundred drug cases that had been based on evidence gathered by the 4th District vice squad.
Turner subsequently defended the integrity of the department, saying a federal investigation into alleged corruption in the 4th District centered on "an isolated case" of wrongdoing by a handful of officers.
Ultimately, one 4th District officer pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and false swearing, while his partner was acquitted of similar charges.
More recently, Turner has drawn criticism for his professional relationship and personal friendship with Barry, who admitted last week before his sentencing to a six-month prison term that he was a drug addict.
Turner has said repeatedly that he confronted Barry about allegations of drug use and that he believed the mayor when Barry replied that he did not use illegal drugs.
"I knew the mayor very well," Turner said last week. "I had faith in the mayor when he told me he wasn't using drugs."
Turner also has said that his department forwarded any tips about Barry's drug use to the appropriate federal authorities and has defended the police security assigned to the mayor, even though questions were raised during Barry's drug trial this summer about whether those officers turned a blind eye to the mayor's private behavior.
Turner and Barry had an occasionally stormy relationship; for instance, the mayor publicly ridiculed his chief as "brain dead" during a 1987 budget dispute. Relations between the two men ruptured in late December 1988, when police investigating complaints of alleged cocaine use by Charles Lewis at the downtown Ramada Inn retreated from the scene after learning the mayor was in Lewis's room.
There was grand jury testimony in Barry's criminal case that he and Turner conversed by telephone several times in the days after the Ramada Inn incident, even as police were mounting an investigation of the case.
Turner consistently has denied any wrongdoing in the way he dealt with Barry. Yesterday, in a debate WETA-TV (Channel 26) is scheduled to broadcast tomorrow at 10 p.m., the former chief said in reference to Barry, "Maurice Turner did what he was professionally sworn: to uphold my office."
Several senior police officials say Turner was a hard drinker in his day -- Barry once joked that the chief "liked to take a little nip now and then" -- but Turner said he stopped drinking alcohol when he retired, but not, he stressed, because he was dependent on it. He quit a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit in 1976 after developing a smoker's cough.
If he has forsaken alcohol and nicotine, there is still a hard edge of machismo about Turner, and it has cropped up repeatedly on the campaign trail, especially in his attacks against Democratic rival Sharon Pratt Dixon for being soft on crime.
Asked last week how he would fare in next Tuesday's election against Dixon, Turner replied, "I'm going to kick her ass."