Melissa Hyatt, a veteran of the Baltimore Police Department and head of security at Johns Hopkins University and Medicine, is a Randallstown native and the daughter of a retired Baltimore police commander.
Melissa Hyatt, a veteran of the Baltimore Police Department and head of security at Johns Hopkins University and Medicine, is a Randallstown native and the daughter of a retired Baltimore police commander. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. on Tuesday named Melissa Hyatt, a veteran of the Baltimore Police Department and head of security at Johns Hopkins University and Medicine, as his choice for county police chief.

Calling her “a smart and dynamic leader,” Olszewski said she was the right person to lead the department into the future. If confirmed by the County Council, Hyatt, 43, would become the county’s first female police chief.

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“Ms. Hyatt will be a community-oriented, forward-thinking, innovative chief,” Olszewski said.

Hyatt was chosen from a pool of about 50 applicants and four finalists, officials said.

A Randallstown native and daughter of a retired Baltimore police commander, Hyatt spent 20 years with the city department, rising to roles that include chief of patrol, chief of staff, and chief of the Special Operations Division. She was an incident commander during the 2015 unrest after the death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody.

While she was seen as a rising star in the city police, the department itself is a troubled agency that has endured leadership turmoil and a serious corruption scandal involving an elite gun unit. It’s operating under a federal consent decree after a Department of Justice investigation found widespread unconstitutional and discriminatory policing.

Hyatt was the department’s highest-ranking woman when she was appointed in February 2018 as vice president for security at Hopkins. She led security efforts there as the institution pushed its controversial plan to create a private police force.

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Olszewski’s announcement came a day after the County Council confirmed Joanne Rund as the county’s first female fire chief. In announcing his choice, he appeared at a news conference with the two women, along with county administrative officer Stacy Rodgers, Gail Watts, head of the county corrections department, and Tammy Price, who leads the county 911 center.

“I am thrilled that we now have an all-female public safety leadership team,” Olszewski said.

Hyatt would succeed Terrence Sheridan, appointed by the late County Executive Kevin Kamenetz in 2017. Her salary will be $275,000, county spokesman T.J. Smith said.

Hyatt pledged to listen to community concerns and ask for input.

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“Public trust is paramount to improving public safety and continuing to move the Baltimore County Police Department forward,” she said.

The announcement drew quick criticism from the Blue Guardians, an association that represents minority police officers and endorsed Democrat Olszewski in last year’s race. The group’s president, Sgt. Anthony Russell, said the county executive ignored qualified African-American candidates from within the department after seeking and receiving support from the black community during his campaign.

Russell said many in the community hoped Olszewski would appoint the county’s first black chief.

“Considering the fact that the county executive spent so much time campaigning on the west side … we thought that this was something he was really poised to do,” said Russell, adding that the department’s demographics do not reflect the county’s population, which is now nearly one-third African American. “When you do something like this, it sends a message.”

Colonels Al Jones and Robert McCullough, both African Americans, were among those vying for the position, according to Russell and others with knowledge of the search.

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In response to the criticism, Olszewski told The Baltimore Sun he was fully confident that Hyatt was “the right person to lead this agency into the future.”

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“I’m confident that we selected the best person to honor the vision that I have for this department,” he said.

Cole Weston, president of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, said that while some within the department feel strongly that an internal candidate should have been chosen, he thinks the county can benefit from outside perspective.

“I trust the county executive took a number of factors into consideration in his selection,” Weston said. “We will work with the new chief. I hope she is open to our concerns about the welfare of Baltimore County police officers. By all accounts, I think she’ll have a full understanding of that.”

In Baltimore County, Maryland’s third most populous county, Hyatt would lead a department of more than 1,900 officers. Like other law enforcement agencies around the nation, the county’s department has struggled to recruit new officers. Officials said earlier this year that they had seen a significant drop in applicants.

In recent years, the county police have been criticized for their handling of sexual assault investigations and for shootings including that of 23-year-old Randallstown resident Korryn Gaines in 2016. A county jury awarded Gaines’ family $38 million last year, though a judge overturned the verdict in February. The county also faces a federal lawsuit alleging the mishandling of sexual assault cases.

While the county saw a spike in violent crime in 2017, overall crime fell nearly 8 percent in the first half of 2018, according to the most recently available department data.

Olszewski said Hyatt would join the department in mid-June. Sheridan is set to retire this summer. He also served as police chief from 1996 to 2007. Kamenetz brought him back two years ago to replace Jim Johnson.

Hyatt has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Delaware and a master’s degree in management from Hopkins.

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