A New Baltimore Model? 'Officer On The Beat ... Pastor On The Corner'

A New Baltimore Model? 'Officer On The Beat ... Pastor On The Corner'

12:35am May 09, 2015
Pastor Rodney Hudson sits on the steps of Ames Memorial United Methodist Church in West Baltimore, blocks away from the center of the protests and rioting that occurred last month.
Pastor Rodney Hudson sits on the steps of Ames Memorial United Methodist Church in West Baltimore, blocks away from the center of the protests and rioting that occurred last month.
Hansi Lo Wang / NPR

The federal investigation into Baltimore's police force is one of the first steps some in the city believe will rebuild the relationship between officers and residents.

Some faith leaders are optimistic that can be done, and past police programs have helped. But other residents are skeptical that West Baltimore residents' trust can be regained.

Just a few blocks away from the center of Baltimore's unrest last month, William Scipio, 49, recently stopped by Ames Memorial United Methodist Church to help sort through clothing donations. Born in Baltimore, he initially had a good impression of the police when he was younger.

"During school time, we used to have an Officer Friendly. He used to come to our classroom and talk to us," he says. "So as I started growing up, I see a police ride down the street, and I'll speak to him, wave to him — and he looks at me like I'm crazy or I didn't exist. So I'm like, 'Wow, where's Officer Friendly at?' "

Scipio says he respects the police and how stressful their job can be.

"Not all police officers are bad," he says, but later adds that Baltimore officers' relationships with West Baltimoreans aren't good.

Pastor Rodney Hudson says that strain between police and the community has driven many here to seek help from faith leaders instead.

"Do you really want to know where the true community police officers are? You looking at them!" he says. "Because who do they come to in the moments of crisis? 'Reverend, I'm hungry! Reverend, my boyfriend just beat me up! What I'm goin' do?' "

The Baltimore police are aware this is happening; they even enlisted Hudson and other ministers to help calm tensions on the streets after Freddie Gray's death, and called their contributions "instrumental."

Hudson sees providing that sort of assistance as a natural part of his duties as a minister.

"Community policing is the officer on the beat joined together with the pastor on the corner," he says.

While there are a number of community outreach programs listed on the Baltimore Police Department's website, the department did not respond to multiple requests for an interview about them.

Many residents point to the Police Athletic League, or PAL, centers, which are no longer available in West Baltimore, as a program that helped build trust between officers and families in the neighborhood.

Eric Paige, who retired from the police department in 2006, had been assigned to work at some of the 27 PAL centers once spread across Baltimore.

"A lot of times the kids ate at the PAL center. We helped them with their homework," he says. "The father figure that many of them were missing, we gave them that."

Some in the department felt the program wasn't the best use of police resources in a crime-ridden city. But Paige says the program was effective.

"It is social work. But what's the goal?" he says. "The goal is to deter crime. The goal is to make a better, healthy Baltimore. That's the goal."

Linwood Davis, 20, stands outside the former home of one of West Baltimore's PAL centers, where he says his friendly relationship with the police first took root.

"It was the only place you could come to to have fun around here," Davis says.

But his memories have been tainted, Davis says, after seeing police using excessive force in his neighborhood.

Paige says that when officers aren't connected with the community, an avoidable us-against-them mentality can develop.

"You're going to have some people that are going to be cold, hard criminals; you're going to have times when officers are going to have to shoot people," Paige says. "But that does not mean that you can't have a relationship with people in the communities because of that."

Davis isn't optimistic that that sort of relationship or trust can be rekindled in West Baltimore after what happened to Freddie Gray and how the community reacted.

"I just don't see it happening again — at all," he says.

Additional reporting by Evie Stone.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Some in Baltimore hope the federal investigation will be a step toward improving relations with officers. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang was in West Baltimore this week and talked with people about how they think policing should change.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Just a few blocks away from the center of Baltimore's unrest last week, three long tables of donations wait outside Ames Memorial United Methodist Church. Pastor Rodney Hudson is greeting neighbors passing by. He says police can learn a thing or two from the way he does his job.

RODNEY HUDSON: How you doin', brother?

WILLIAM SCIPIO: OK, yourself?

HUDSON: All right. We're putting out some clothes. You've got some food on the inside. You need some personal hygiene pieces, they're in the inside.

WANG: Hudson's chatting with William Scipio. He was born in Baltimore in 1964 and says his good opinion of the police has changed over the years.

SCIPIO: During school time, we used to have Officer Friendly. He used to come to our classroom and talk to us. You know, so as I started growing up, I see a police right there on the street and I speak to him, wave to him, and he'd look at me like I'm crazy or I didn't exist, you know? So I'm like wow, where's Officer Friendly at?

WANG: Still, Scipio says, he respects the police and how stressful their job can be.

SCIPIO: Not all police officers are bad, you know, but the ones that I done seen that patrol the streets here in Baltimore, no - and West Baltimore at that. It's not good.

WANG: That strained relationship between police and community, Pastor Hudson says, has driven many here to seek help from faith leaders instead.

HUDSON: Do you really want to know where the true community police officers are? You're looking at 'em. Because who do they come to in the moments of crisis? Reverend, I'm hungry. Reverend, my boyfriend just beat me up. What I'm going to do?

WANG: The Baltimore police are aware this is happening. They even enlisted Hudson and other ministers to help calm tensions on the streets after Freddie Gray's death. In fact, the police department called ministers instrumental. It's a role that Hudson sees as a natural part of his duties as a minister.

HUDSON: Community policing is the officer on the beat joined together with the pastor on the corner.

WANG: Baltimore's police department does list a number of community outreach programs on its website, but it didn't respond to multiple requests for an interview. Many residents point to one such program called PAL centers, run by the Police Athletic League, as something they liked.

ERIC PAIGE: A lot of times the kids ate at the PAL center. We helped them with their homework. The father figure that many of them were missing, we gave them that.

WANG: Eric Paige was assigned to work at some of the almost 30 PAL centers once spread across Baltimore. He retired from the Baltimore police in 2006. While some people felt the program wasn't the best use of police resources in a crime-ridden city, he thought the program was effective.

PAIGE: It is social work, but what's the goal? The goal is to deter crime. The goal is to make a better, healthier Baltimore. That's the goal.

WANG: Paige says that when officers aren't connected with the community, it becomes us against them, a tension that can be avoided.

PAIGE: You're going to have some people that are going to be cold, hard criminals. You're going to have times where officers are going to have to shoot people. But that does not mean that you can't have a relationship with people in the communities because of that.

WANG: For 20-year-old Linwood Davis, his friendly relationship with the police first took root at a PAL center in West Baltimore. He's standing outside a recreational center that used to house the program.

LINWOOD DAVIS: A lot of memories here - it's the only place you can go to have fun around here.

WANG: But those memories have been tainted, Davis says, after seeing police use excessive force in his neighborhood. After the Freddie Gray case, he's stopped short of saying there's no hope at all of rebuilding that trust, but he's not optimistic.

DAVIS: I just don't see it happening again at all. Any times you got gangs coming together to fight the police - yeah, I just don't see that happening ever again.

WANG: Rebuilding that trust?

DAVIS: Never, never (laughter).

WANG: A dirt bike speeds past Davis outside the rec center where minutes before a helicopter hovered overhead. On its side you could see bold, white letters spelling out police. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, Baltimore.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: Thanks for ending the week with us. You can follow us on Twitter. I'm Melissa Block at @NPRmelissablock.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel at @RSiegel47.

BLOCK: And we have breaking news here. Robert, you actually tweeted...

SIEGEL: I did.

BLOCK: ...(Laughter) for the first time, what is it - once a season? Once a quarter?

SIEGEL: Something like that. I'm not a big tweeter but I had something on my mind.

BLOCK: Well, this is a great tweet. You actually figured out - with a little bit of help from someone in the studio here with you - how to attach a photograph. This is a great photograph. It's something really scary sitting on the table.

SIEGEL: Right. It's a photo of David Attenborough - Sir David Attenborough and a stuffed lemur.

BLOCK: A stuffed lemur, and we're going to hear more about that and why you're looking at a stuffed lemur coming up.

SIEGEL: He's one of the greats - Attenborough, not the lemur.

BLOCK: Oh, OK (laughter).

SIEGEL: And it said wonderful things about entertainment and education. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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