11/16/20 11:43 a.m. Update: This article has been updated with additional information.
The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore hosted the virtual event, “A Conversation with Baltimore County Police Chief, Melissa Hyatt,” on Oct. 28. Organized by The Associated’s Jewish Professional Women group, the event focused on Hyatt’s career as the first Jewish woman to hold her current position.
Hyatt — who has more than 20 years of experience in law enforcement and who was sworn in as Baltimore County’s 14th police chief on June 17, 2019 — began the evening discussing her familial connection to policing. Her father had been a Baltimore police officer for more than 31 years, and Hyatt described how, as a young girl, she would watch her father polishing his shoes and putting together his uniform for the next day of work, and the admiration she felt for him.
“My parents tell me that ever since I could first speak,” Hyatt reminisced, “that the first thing when I could talk, I said that I wanted to be a police officer. And so that was something that throughout the course of my childhood I really stuck with.”
For a time, Hyatt’s parents made clear they preferred she become a lawyer, at one point even arranging for her to spend the day with a Baltimore County prosecutor. They eventually came around to support her career choice, though on the condition that she attend college first, rather than serving in the U.S. Army before joining the force, as she had initially intended.
According to Hyatt, one of her highest priorities is community engagement.
“There are absolutely communities in Baltimore County that we have great relationships with,” Hyatt said. “And then there are other communities that we’ve got a lot of work to do to build trust and to work very closely with them. So we accept and acknowledge the fact that there is definitely work that needs to be done.”
She noted that having a positive relationship with different communities is crucial to investigating crimes that occur in those areas, and to create a diverse police force by recruiting from those communities.
When addressing the protests in May, Hyatt stressed that her office had engaged in proactive outreach to the organizers of local demonstrations.
“When people are peacefully demonstrating, our role is to keep them safe, and our role is to protect their right to be able to do that,” she said.
On a related note, Hyatt also broached the topic of recent calls to defund the nation’s police departments. She pledged to continue investing in police training programs, such as their implicit bias training program.
“The reality is training our police officers is beneficial for all of us,” Hyatt said. “We want them to have the best training, we want them to have the best equipment, because that’s how they’re going to be able to keep our community members safe, and that’s how they’re going to keep each other safe, and we want everybody going home safely at night.”
Hyatt also stressed the importance of police having empathy for the community members they are serving. She acknowledged that this can be a challenge given the differing emotional states of a recent crime victim and an officer on duty. She explained that when a community member dials 911, it’s usually one of the worst days of their life, but for the officer who is responding to that call, it is just another weekday.
“It’s really important for our officers to remember that that victim, that person, somebody’s mom, someone’s dad, their sister, their brother, their child, and we all have to remember that we have expectations of how our own families would be treated by police, and we need to make sure that we maintain that level of empathy,” Hyatt said.
The event was co-chaired by Tracee Fruman and Dori Chait, both of Pikesville. According to Fruman, who is also a co-chair of JPW, “being Jewish and being a woman brings a certain perspective to any job.” She added that Hyatt “gave us a really great insight into what she brings to the table.”
Meanwhile, Debbie Lubliner, also a co-chair of JPW, said that the event “went very well,” and that Hyatt “has a very difficult job, a very demanding job. And I feel that she is doing exceptional work, and we really appreciate all of her hard work and her support in protecting our community.”