When it comes to improving community relations, Baltimore County’s new police chief said she recognized that some people see a police badge and feel different things.
For some, a police officer is a symbol of honor and sacrifice — and for others, seeing officers brings feelings of anxiety or fear.
“The need to rebuild relationships between our police and our communities has not been this crucial since the civil rights movement of the 1960s,” Melissa Hyatt said Monday during her swearing-in ceremony.
“There are challenges across our nation and our own neighborhoods. We cannot simply police our way out of it,” she said. “I recognize the need to build trust."
Hyatt was sworn in as Baltimore County’s 14th police chief and the first woman to lead the department.
In a ceremony at Towson’s Patriot Plaza, Hyatt said she would never forget the sacrifice of first responders who had died in the line of duty and would work hard to get to know the department she now leads.
Hyatt also said she would use the report from the The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing as a “reference guide,” and focus on areas like building community trust, rethinking oversight and accountability, evaluating technology use and officer training and wellness.
“I want to provide the tools necessary to our officers to be able to do the best job possible serving this county, while keeping in mind the stress this profession places on officers and their families,” Hyatt said.
Hyatt was nominated by Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. in May, and confirmed unanimously by the County Council in an early June vote.
“Today, I’m going to spend some time getting out into the precincts,” Hyatt said in an interview after being sworn in. She wants to “Spend a lot of time in the community … [and] make sure I get out and spend some time with the troops.”
The 43-year-old was the first female sergeant on the Baltimore Police Department tactical team, and is now the first woman to lead the Baltimore County department. Her most recent job was as vice president of security for Johns Hopkins University and Medicine after a 20-year career on the city force.
Hyatt is replacing former chief Terrence Sheridan, who announced his retirement in December. Her selection as the new chief initially disappointed some stakeholders who had wanted an internal candidate from Baltimore County’s 1,900-strong police force, including Councilman Julian Jones.
Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, said he respects the position and found no faults with Hyatt, so he voted for her confirmation. He said he was happy for the new chief, and didn’t want to cast any shade on the ceremony of the day. But when it comes to whether the position should have been filled by an internal candidate, Jones said his position “hasn’t changed.”
Olszewski, speaking during the ceremony, said he was confident in Hyatt’s ability to lead, and called ensuring public safety “one of the most critical responsibilities” in government, “especially” at the local level.
“Given that truth, selecting a new police chief is perhaps one of the most important decisions a county executive ever has to make,” Olszewski said.
Hyatt said her priorities will be in different “buckets,” including internal looks at accountability within the department and external looks at community relationships.
The new chief is scheduled to attend three public safety town halls in the coming weeks, in the western, eastern and central parts of the county.
The first is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Randallstown Community Center, 3505 Resource Drive.
County officials said Hyatt would also be conducting “community walks” in the near future, but that the dates and times have not yet been scheduled.
After being sworn in by Clerk of the Circuit Court Julie Ensor, Hyatt had her chief’s badge pinned on her by her father, Sidney Hyatt, a retired major from the Baltimore Police Department.
Her father, Hyatt said, has pinned her badge every time she’s received a promotion, so it was only fitting he was on hand to pin her newest badge.
Hyatt said she had wanted to be a police officer “from as soon as I could speak as a young child.” She found “joy” in watching her father work every day, and was “incredibly fortunate” to have him in her life, she said.
Going forward, Hyatt said she hopes her position will help inspire recruitment, especially of female officers.
“People need to see someone who looks like them to be able to envision themselves in roles,” Hyatt said.