June 25, 2022

A novel approach to recruiting the next generation of police officers and regaining public trust


Dear PERF members,

Police departments are facing unprecedented difficulty in recruiting and hiring the next generation of police officers. At the same time, agencies need to regain public trust, particularly in the neighborhoods facing the greatest challenges. These twin challenges are inter-related, and we need to think creatively about how to address both of them.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and I were recently discussing this challenge and came up with a novel idea. We would reach out to local Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and identify gifted students to take part in a summer internship with the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). These promising students would have the opportunity to explore the inner workings of their local police department, and in turn, the department would have the opportunity hear the students’ perspectives on policing.

The next day, Commissioner Harrison contacted Coppin State University President Anthony Jenkins and Morgan State University President David Wilson and arranged a call among the four of us. We decided to identify eight students or recent graduates from the two universities in Baltimore for a paid 10-week internship with the police department. Each intern would be assigned to a specific area of BPD and would have a range of learning opportunities inside and outside the department.

PERF would fund the project through the generous gift we received earlier this year from MacKenzie Scott. This is the first of several initiatives PERF plans to implement with these funds. We envisioned this as a pilot program that PERF would evaluate, with the hope of expanding it to other agencies next summer.

Internships can help launch careers in policing

I know of several police chiefs around the country who started their policing careers as interns or cadets, went on to become officers, and never looked back. My own career in policing began when I was in graduate school and had the opportunity to intern at the Boston Police Department. This was a challenging time for the department. Many in the city were protesting court-ordered school desegregation, and a new police commissioner, Robert diGrazia, was making sweeping and long-needed reforms. I was assigned to the police academy and was lucky enough to work with some great people, such as Bob Wasserman and Al Sweeney.

I started by going on ride-alongs and doing whatever was asked of me – filling the gas tanks of police cars, picking up sandwiches, and carrying video equipment when Pope John Paul II visited Boston. Then someone discovered I could write, and I was transferred to the commissioner’s office in headquarters.

The entire experience opened my eyes to the world of policing. My hope is that our HBCU internship program will do the same for these eight students.

The program began two weeks ago and is off to a strong start. The interns have already ridden with patrol officers; met with Commissioner Harrison and members of his executive team; sat down for a discussion with attorneys from the Department of Justice and members of Baltimore's Consent Decree Monitoring Team; attended a Comstat meeting; toured the Anne Arundel County Police Department’s training academy; visited PERF’s office in Washington, D.C.; and spoke with the No Boundaries Coalition, a community advocacy organization. They are getting a crash course in modern-day policing, which is broadening their horizons and, hopefully, opening their eyes to the many opportunities there are in the profession.

A talented group with diverse skills

The interns are a talented group with a diverse set of skills which police agencies could benefit from. They include:

  • A junior at Morgan State who is the founder and president of Students Against Sexual Harassment and Assault (SASHA); she is spending her internship with BPD’s Victim Advocacy Unit.
  • A recent Coppin State graduate in criminal justice who is midway through the application process for becoming a Baltimore police officer; this summer he is assisting the Operations Bureau with the expansion of the Gun Violence Reduction Strategy.
  • A Coppin State senior who is working in BPD’s Forensic Sciences Section; she has experience working as a contractual officer for Baltimore City Community College.
  • Another Coppin State grad who is applying to law school; she is working in the Legal Affairs and Government Affairs units this summer.
  • A former Morgan State student who is an accomplished musician and audio producer; he is applying his talents in BPD’s Recruitment Section.
  • A Morgan State sophomore who immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria at the age of 12; he is applying his interest in cybersecurity while interning in the Information Technology Division.
  • A Coppin State sophomore who is studying criminal justice and psychology; he is working in Education and Training this summer.
  • A recent Coppin State grad who is pursuing a master’s degree in crime scene investigation; she, too, is working in BPD’s Forensic Sciences Section.

I have already met once with the interns, and they are an amazing group. I will continue meeting with them over the coming weeks. I am excited to hear about their experiences and their perspectives on policing. I am hopeful that some of them will follow the lead of their peer who is applying to become a Baltimore police officer, or maybe they will find other opportunities to work as professional staff members in a police agency.

But even if they choose other career paths, I hope their experiences this summer will help shape their thinking about policing and police-community relations. This group of young people has a lot to offer our profession and our communities.

You can read more about this initiative in our program announcement and this Baltimore Sun article.

Meeting with the interns this past week

Supreme Court rules against New York’s concealed carry law

On Thursday, the Supreme Court struck down New York’s law limiting individuals’ ability to carry a concealed weapon in public places. New York – like California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey – has required concealed carry applicants to demonstrate a special need for self-defense.  In his majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the Constitution prohibits states from limiting concealed carry licenses to those who can demonstrate a special need.

This ruling could have far-reaching implications, which we will be discussing after we have had a chance to examine them more fully. In the meantime, I would encourage everyone – particularly those in the states with restrictions on concealed carry – to discuss the ruling with your department’s legal counsel and determine what impact it may have on your operations and training. And those six states may be passing new permitting laws in the near future, so chiefs and sheriffs from those states should reach out to their state legislatures to provide input on that legislation.

Have a great weekend!