By J. K. Schmid, AFRO Baltimore Staff
“In this city, in the department, it was a war,” former Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) Commissioner Leonard Hamm said of his service. “I had to go in as a war-time general, because we were fighting on several different fronts.”
Hamm, now top cop at Coppin State University, participated in a December 4 book signing alongside former BPD sergeant Lisa Montague and authors Matthew Horace and Ron Harris.
Horace, a 28-year veteran of local, state and federal law enforcement is now a security expert analyst regularly appearing on CNN, MSNBC and BBC to speak on the condition of American law enforcement.
Harris is a National Newspapers Publishers Association journalist and Howard University adjunct professor.
Together, Horace and Harris wrote “The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement.” Hamm and Montague provided their first-hand experiences in BPD. Hamm’s contribution, as an interview, emphasized his struggles with and as leadership as commissioner of a city with a rising murder rate. Montague provided street-level perspective of the job while also confronting sexism within the department.
“I walked into a police department that was not equipped, or did not have the will to do what it was supposed to do and that was protect you all,” Hamm said.
One of the cases made in the book is to change the culture of policing, one that has become embittered and removed from the community as policing was treated as a “war” on crime, and ultimately criminals and communities.
“There was no trust and there was no transparency and there was none of that,” Hamm said. “In Baltimore City, at the time, there was 263 community associations, and I went to every last one of those community associations and said ‘look, for 48 years, in our arrogance, we thought we knew what you wanted, and we thought that we knew what was good for you. We were wrong.’”
A war mindset naturally leads to aspirations of aggression adventure and the need for a new outlook has shifted how Hamm hires.
“You want to recruit people who come here with a sense of service and not a sense of adventure,” Hamm said. “Now, when I have a young person I’m interviewing tell me ‘man, I want to work narcotics,’ I don’t want that person, I don’t want ‘em. Because they’re coming in here with a sense of adventure, you want a person to come here with a sense of service and you can do that by simply asking questions.”
“It’s how you recruit them, it’s how you train them, it’s how you discipline them, and it’s how you supervise them,” Hamm said.
In response to a question about whether police forces should necessarily match the racial makeup of their communities, Horace answered:
“When you look at Baltimore and other departments that are predominantly African-American, they are still under consent decrees,” Horace said. “So there’s that, and there’s also the piece that I know very well: The New York City Police Department, 36,000 police officers and full-time equivalents, where do the majority of their White police officers come from? Long Island, New York, one of the most segregated places that you’ve ever lived in.