Last Spring, Acting-Chief Rick Hite was in Rio De Janeiro sharing his expertise and innovative ideas in reducing youth violence, drug dealing and gang activity as the Brazilian city prepares to host the 2016 Olympics.
Law enforcement officials asked Hite to offer his thoughts on how they can control the South American city’s crime due to his 32-year career as a Baltimore police officer. A career that has included inventive outreach efforts that focused on safe policing, police leadership and trust building strategies among law enforcement and the community.
When Paul Ciesielski resigned as the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s police chief in April, former public safety director Frank Straub appointed Hite despite criticism from the Fraternal Order of Police President Bill Owensby and others that Hite,53 although a native of Gary, was an outsider having spent his entire career in Baltimore.
If given the opportunity to stay in his post, Hite says one of the first things he would address is internal equity in the police department.
“It’s about finding out what’s working and what is benefiting the people that are already here,” he said. “It’s succession planning; we’ll bring out the creative juices, look at the talent that is already here, look at the things they are doing that are working and allow people to do what they can do naturally.”
Allowing cops to utilize their talents to make the department run more efficiently is a small effort that Hite believes can bring sizeable results.
Take his time in Baltimore for instance, one of the most dangerous cities in the country. A city that celebrated 196 homicides in 2011, dropping below 200 murders in a year for the first time since 1977. As deputy director of community affairs and chief of patrol, Hite launched an outreach effort offering individuals involved in the drug trade a chance to quit. Called “Get Out of the Game,” Hite’s unit walked the streets, speaking one-on-one to people young and old, offering an alternative such as options for drug treatment, a high school education, housing and job placement for ex-offenders. Over 75 people came forward.
In Indianapolis Hite was one of the key law enforcement officials behind the Trayvon Martin demonstration at Light of the World Christian Church, where Pastor David Hampton and other members of the congregation were arrested, and Indiana Black Expo’s efforts last summer to keep known gang members away from downtown during July’s Summer Celebration.
“From what I have seen, (Rick Hite) has done a great job and he has shown that he wants to make improvements to the communications between the police department and the community,” said Hampton. “To me, that is very promising.”
Hite said he understands the frayed relationship and disconnection of communication between the African-American community and the police. He believes police often miss opportunities to reach out during a time when there isn’t a crisis.
“We need to bring a sense of community understanding so we can identify a crisis before there is a crisis and have people trust us,” he said. “So when we show up, we recognize the people that can help us rescue our community.”
Hite also acknowledges the important role he could play being an African-American police chief. However, he wants people to look past his ethnicity and see a man who cares about people and understands the needs of the community.
Within the police department, he wants to continue to raise the bar.
“We have to make sure everybody has an opportunity to excel,” he said. “We raise the bar in terms of expectations and that is to continue education and make sure (officers) understand their job is to arrest offenders, but also prevent crime from taking place.”
As acting chief, Hite’s job is not definite. With Straub’s resignation, Mayor Greg Ballard now has to choose a new public safety director who will likely help decide if Hite’s position is permanent.
“I’m comfortable that we have a good team here and things are moving in the right direction,” Hite said. “I would like to think they would consider that and maintain the direction we’re moving in, which means we’ll hopefully keep the team we have in the field.”