After five years as Baltimore's police commissioner — five years of sleepless nights, crime scenes and news conferences —Frederick H. Bealefeld III was ready to unplug.
While Bealefeld scheduled Aug. 1 as his official retirement date, he's spending most of this month burning off vacation by hiking a 300-odd-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail — solo and almost completely out of pocket.
"I really want to be alone," Bealefeld said. "A lot of people want to come with me, but I don't want to have to talk to anyone."
Coming from anyone else, that might sound a shade depressing. But Bealefeld has nothing to sulk about: Baltimore's homicide rate is at its lowest in decades, even with a significant drop in the number of total arrests. To hear him tell it, he woke up one morning, a few months from his 50th birthday, and decided to give it up. He wanted to spend more time with his wife, Linda, daughter, Erica, 16, and son, Frederick IV, 21. So he quit.
A few weeks before his big trek through the mountains, Bealefeld sat down to talk about his 31-year tenure with the city police, his love of the band Coldplay (he's even taking a break from the trail to see them in D.C.) and his next step.
Did you really just wake up one morning and say, "That's it. I'm done"?
This job has affected [my family] just as much as it has affected me. … [My son] is like the hero of my life, my best friend in the whole world. And I've got to squeeze him in. I'm anxious for a time when I won't have to squeeze him in. I won't have to squeeze in time for my daughter. I won't have to squeeze in time for my wife. When she's telling me something, I'll hear her without thinking about dead bodies and what I have to do or think, "I hope no one gets murdered in the next two hours so we can enjoy dinner."
I'm sure everyone is asking you about your next step. Let's say I'm a wealthy entrepreneur and I just opened a casino and I need a head of security.
Am I going to work for David Cordish [at the Maryland Live casino]? David's been a really great friend to me. But I'm really blessed that I have a bunch of great friends. I have some job offers in my pocket, and it affords me the opportunity to find the right fit.
A dream job for me would be the director of National Hockey League security. That would be my dream job: NHL security. ... I would take a position down in the food chain just to put my foot in the door at NHL, because I love hockey that much.
You're really hiking 300-some miles by yourself all month?
I want to set up my own tent, do my own thing and be left alone. I figure I can find a little bit of peace out there. It will be hot enough, the bugs will be just active enough, to keep the recreational people away.
Are you going to bring a gun?
No. I don't want to have anything to do with a gun. A gun's a liability. People steal stuff.
I've survived 31 years here mostly by common sense and my wit. I'm not a ninja. I'm not going to have a secret spear gun or something hidden in my walking staff. I figure the same skills that kept me safe here will keep me safe there.
You're a big Coldplay fan, right?
Oh, I love Coldplay. I was fascinated by one of their concerts. I like their music, and I study their lyrics a little bit, but I don't know as much about their personal lives. I saw this concert on TV, and they were somewhere like the Isle of Wight and Gwyneth Paltrow was down in front. I was like, "Look — that's Gwyneth Paltrow," and my wife was like, "You moron, that's the singer, Chris Martin's, wife." I don't follow stuff like that.
What's your parting thought to new cops, who've just graduated from the Baltimore Police Academy?
Get out of those cars. If they'd just get out of those damn cars, all the other stuff will come. They'll figure out how to solve problems in the community. They'll pay attention to the lady that lives down the street and understand who the good kids are versus the bad kids.
Those are the kinds of things you learn because you're out talking to people. I didn't read about it, I didn't hear war stories about it — I lived that. It is pure policing at its best. If that's really what you want to do in life, it is pure policing. I think that in the same way I think Coldplay is real music. There's piano, there's strings and there's a story in their lyrics. And there's imagination and creativity. It's real.