"The Police Bill of Rights clearly states that police officers can only be disciplined within the department," Sgt. Larry Collins, the FOP president, said in an interview last week. "We have no obligation whatsoever to cooperate with (Smith) and, in fact, we won't. I appreciate what the city is trying to do, but I will never send one of my men to that office to talk with him."
In appointing Smith, 33, as complaints officer, Mayor Daniel S. Frawley complied with recommendations made by the Quillen Commission, an independent advisory committee established by executive order early this year.
After three months of reviewing departmental rules and procedure, the five- member commission - which included Collins - decided that civilians might be more willing to file complaints about police misconduct if a civilian representative were available to them.
The internal affairs disciplinary process, the commission's report said, was "often perceived as secretive and intimidating" by the public. Perhaps, the report went on, the process was "motivated by an effort to minimize complaints."
Though its report did not mention it, the Quillen Commission had its birth in a brawl between white police officers and black civilians - and in the unwillingless of those civilians to cooperate in a police investigation.
In the early morning hours of Oct. 12, 1985, seven off-duty police officers leaving a bachelor party for one of them got into an altercation with about 30 civilians. Two officers allegedly drew their guns during the fight, which took place in a drive-through liquor store.
When the police department began to investigate the incident, the civilians refused to cooperate, saying their legal rights might be violated in the process.
Some leaders in the black community, including state Rep. Al O. Plant (D., Wilmington), advised the civilians not to cooperate in an investigation involving the internal affairs unit.
Eventually, several of the officers present were disciplined. One was fired.
The Quillen Commission was empaneled, and after its recommendations were made, the city waited nearly seven months, without explanation, before it appointed Smith as complaints officer.
Since his appointment, Smith, a Wilmington native who said his family was the first to integrate the once all-white Ninth Ward in the city, has "been reading old files and seeing what kind of work needs to be done," he said.
He acknowledges that he had not received any complaints of police abuse to date.
And when he does? "I guess I would talk to witnesses and make recommendations on what should be done about the problems," he said. He said such recommendations would go to the police chief, who would decide what action would be taken.
Mayoral administrative assistant Kevin McGonegal, likewise, is cautious when he talks about the FOP's position that it does not have to cooperate with Smith.
"Basically, the difference is in the interpretation of the Police Bill of Rights," McGonegal said. "I'm not saying which side is right - the law department is looking into that. But hopefully there can be a compromise."
First Assistant City Solicitor Michael P. Reynolds said he was drafting an opinion that would clarify the "gray areas" in the bill of rights.
He acknowledged, though, that his opinion could be challenged in court.
Aside from the differences with the FOP, the mayor's office has received some complaints about Smith himself, who holds a master's degree in human services and has been community affairs director since October 1985.
City Councilman Arthur Scott said in an interview recently that Smith was ''out of touch with the black community" and "doesn't really know what the problems there are"- an assessment Smith denies.
Plant, though, said his problems were not solely with Smith but with any mayoral cabinet member who would also serve as complaints officer.
"I don't think a complaints officer can be effective for the citizenry if his office is in the mayoral compound," Plant said in a recent interview. ''It's widely known what the mayor's position is on issues like this."
The state representative said he would push for legislation that would create a statewide public review board to oversee civilian police complaints.