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Howard County's new police chief breaks 'glass ceiling' as first female African American to lead department

Jess Nocera
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

A retired former Howard County police captain is returning to service to become the department’s first African American female police chief.

“It’s huge, an exciting opportunity,” said Lisa Myers, 52, who was named chief Monday by County Executive Calvin Ball. “It demonstrates a breaking of the glass ceiling for women and minorities.”

Ball said he has known Myers for more than a decade, and made the pick based on her qualifications, compassion and her commitment to community policing.

“I knew she would be a leader for today and tomorrow,” he said.

Myers joins Ball, Sheriff Marcus Harris and State’s Attorney Rich Gibson as the first blacks in their respective roles serving in Howard County. The latter three were all elected in the November general election.

Last month Ball named Christine Uhlhorn, a third-generation firefighter who served with the county for nearly 30 years, as the first female fire chief in Howard County. Regarding his picks for the two high-profile positions, Ball said he "wanted leaders who shared my vision for a safe, inclusive Howard County."

Myers said it’s crucial for county residents to have people in leadership who represent them.

“It's important that people see our police department and leadership reflect the diversity of the community,” she said.

Myers had a 27-year career with Howard County police before retiring in January of last year. She said when she was approached by Ball about returning as chief, she “jumped at the opportunity.”

“I’m interested in coming back and picking up where I left off and moving the department forward,” she said.

She began her career with the department in a civilian position in 1990. For four years she was a crime lab technician, working with detectives and officers on crime scene investigations. She said as years went by, she realized she wanted to become a sworn officer.

She started out as a patrol officer and worked up the ranks as a supervisor, public information officer, supervisor of youth services, chief of staff and commander of the human resources bureau.

Founded in 1952, the Howard County police department has 478 sworn officers and 221 full-time civilian employees. Myers said her experience gives her insight to how all the department’s personnel can work together.

“I was not just a sworn officer, I was a civilian in the department. I understand the agency in a different perspective,” Myers said.

She will replace former chief Gary Gardner, who retired at the end of 2018. Myers will officially become Howard’s police chief on Feb. 1, and will receive a salary of $209,110, according to a county spokesman.

County Council Chairwoman Christiana Mercer Rigby said she was “excited” about Myers’ appointment, saying she “brings a diversity of experience and an eye toward moving the county’s police department forward.

“She is exactly the type of leader we need in our community,” she said, “one who works collaboratively with officers and residents to strengthen safety and trust in Howard County.”

Vernon Gray, who in 1982 was elected countywide as Howard’s first black council member, applauded the hiring and said: “I think it’s wonderful for Howard County to have a black woman as chief of police.”

Gray, who was a councilman for 20 years, said he has known Myers since the 1990s. He said she is committed to the community and has “great character.”

Willie Flowers, president of the Howard County Branch of the NAACP, also said Myers has a “mentality of community commitment that comes from Howard County police, and I think that’s what needed.”

Myers has also been a “very committed supporter” to the Howard County branch of the NAACP over the years, Flowers said.

“She has mentored some of our members who happen to also be members of the Howard County police,” he said.

And Dwayne Crawford, executive director of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers Inc., said he sees more women becoming police chiefs all over the nation — a trend he called “a great testament to the profession.”

A lifelong Marylander, Myers comes from a law enforcement background. Her late-father, Leonard Bridgeforth, was a former military police officer in the U.S. Army, and her late-uncle Dennis Mello worked in the Baltimore Police Department.

Myers is following in the historical footsteps of her uncle, who in 1956 became the first African-American police captain in the Baltimore department.

A cousin, Henry Mello, retired from the Baltimore Police Department in 1986.

Myers is married to Woodrow Myers Jr., a retired Maryland State Police Trooper who is now a commander with the police force at Towson University in Baltimore County. She has a son and two step-children.

Myers said one of her first priorities in February will be to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the department. She said she specifically wants to look into the department’s emergency preparedness, ensuring officers have the training and equipment needed for emergencies that can range from an active shooter to extreme weather.

Myers said she wants to continue to build upon the department’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis and bolster its mental health unit. In October, the mental health unit was expanded, in part as a response to Maryland’s new red flag law allowing law enforcement officials, family members, mental health providers and others to request temporary removal of guns from individuals if they believe they pose an immediate danger to themselves or others.

The unit previously had one police officer and one mental health professional, and added two additional officers to its ranks.

Myers said that in recruitment, she will seek to hire strong candidates for the force who also reflect the diversity of the community.

According to U.S. Census data, Howard County’s population is about 52 percent white, nearly 20 percent black or African American, about 19 percent Asian and about 6.8 percent Hispanic or Latino.

Until Myers formally takes the reins next month, two current commanders in the department — Maj. Luther Johnson, the department’s deputy chief of administration, and Maj. Ellsworth Jones, deputy chief in operations command — will serve as acting Howard police chiefs.

Gardner, who had been chief for four-and-a-half years and had a nearly 35-year career with the department, announced his retirement shortly after Ball took office.

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