Longtime Baltimore police officer Melvin Russell took to the TEDx stage last year to talk about police reform. Lt. Col. Russell talks about work aimed at improving relations with the community in the Eastern District.

Russell, who says he is a preacher and is also Chief of BPD’s Community Partnership Division, says police have put too much time into being protectors, which has “dehumanized” the police force. When he became commander of the Eastern District, he said he started to think “holistically and not paramilitarily.”

“And so I decided to come to that intersection where I could meet all classes, all races, all creeds, all colors; where I would meet the businesses and the faith-based, and the eds, the meds, and I would meet all the people that made up the communities that I had authority over,” he says.

The approach eventually spread to other districts, which Russell then links to a reduction in murders below 200 for the year in 2011. As Baltimore residents know, it didn’t last.

“But I gotta tell you this: these last few years, as much as we had learned to become great proactive police officers and great relational police officers rather than reactive, these last years have disappointed me. They have broken my heart. The uprising still hurts. It still hurts my heart, because truly I believe that it should’ve never happened.”

Russell also says current police commissioner Kevin Davis understands and embraces community policing.

“Listen, I’m excited about Baltimore today, because we, as many cities, I believe shall rise from the ashes,” he says.

There’s a lot more of Russell’s back story in Benjamin Wallace-Wells’ New York Magazine piece on Baltimore after the uprising.

Stephen Babcock

Stephen Babcock is the editor of Baltimore and an editor-at-large of Baltimore Fishbowl.