Coppin State Breaks TheMold On HBCU Crime Prevention

Lt. Governor Anthony Brown gives brief remarks at B'More Aware of HIV: The Living Red Ribbon event at Coppin State University
Lt. Governor Anthony Brown gives brief remarks at B'More Aware of HIV: The Living Red Ribbon event at Coppin State University. by Brian K. Slack at Baltimore, Maryland

Leonard Hamm is looking forward to his teaching load this upcoming semester. A self-proclaimed “ordinary guy” who’s just looking to give Coppin State University students a “chance to do something worthwhile” upon graduation, Hamm will deliver lectures and real world knowledge in his criminal procedure and intro to criminal justice courses this spring.

But Hamm is more than an ordinary guy, and more than a lecturer in one of Coppin State’s signature programs of study. Hamm also serves as Coppin’s chief of police, and is the man at the center of one of the state’s safest campuses.

Hamm, along with officers, community partners and students, is helping to develop a new narrative on campus safety at Coppin. Stationed in Baltimore’s western district and surrounded by a steady line of aggravated assaults, larceny and sex offenses over the last three years, Coppin has emerged as a key a partner in Baltimore City’s efforts to prevent and reduce violent crime and recidivism in the area.

“It’s all about education,” says Hamm, who has more than 30 years of experience in police and public safety. “We constantly put out crime alerts and video updates with our officers discussing important issues, such as what people should do if there is an active shooter on the campus. It’s a video that goes out to students, faculty and staff, and viewable on a desktop or smartphone. The information can get to you wherever you are.”

According to federal crime statistics required for public review by the Clery Act, Coppin outpaced many of its regional peer institutions in the number of sex offenses, robberies and assaults to occur on campus between 2010 and 2012. Hamm, a Baltimore native who served as the city’s police commissioner from 2004 to 2007, says that upgrades in crime tracking technology, and working with students to obtain information anonymously, is the only sustainable way to prevent crime.

“We do something called Intelligence-led policing. I have a database and all of the crimes in the last four years, on campus or in the vicinity of the campus, are in the database. This helps us to map and project where crimes may take place in the future. We know that on certain days of the week, certain crimes were being committed, and we deployed our officers to these locations at those specific times.”

“If we can’t prevent, we try to apprehend. We work with the Western District of Baltimore CIty (Police Department). So our guys can talk to the district directly. They communicate about crime.”

Hamm admits that you can’t prevent every crime, but acknowledges that good students with concern about public safety make the job much easier to navigate, even in a city popularized by crime as depicted on HBO’s ‘The Wire.’ When asked to measure the difference between managing a city and a campus for crime prevention and response, Hamm cites pace as the biggest difference.

“Wherever you have people, you’re going to have crime. On campus, the pace is a little slower. The kind of suspect we’re usually dealing with tends to be a knucklehead, but certainly not a criminal.”

“The reason why our campus is so safe, is because we have good kids,” Hamm continued. “I teach here. The students trust me. They tell me everything that goes on with this campus. We get good information, we deploy officers where they are needed based on tips we receive from students, and we protect the identity of those students.”

The improvements in Coppin’s public safety profile serve as a backdrop to its academic development in criminal justice. In 2013, the school formally launched the Bishop L. Robinson Justice Institute, a training and research hub lending resources to combat social elements contributing to crime in Baltimore and other urban environments.

Coppin’s School of Professional Studies, with degree programs in criminal justice, social work and rehabilitation studies serves as a center for community change. The Institute is a capstone in Coppin’s master plan of spearheading the revitalization of West Baltimore, with public safety at the core of encouraging business development, livable communities and citizen advocacy.

WIth a straightforward style of communication, Hamm is often called upon to ease the concerns of potential Coppin parents about crime in the city.

“Whenever a kid is recruited here for athletics, I am part of that recruiting process. Parents come to me, and I pull up stats for the city. I pull up Coppin and ask them ‘where do you see a crime on this campus?’”

With academic and cultural development around the campus centered on criminal justice and crime prevention, Coppin students have embraced the school’s narrative as a university committed to public safety.

“It makes our kids proud. Our kids say ‘it doesn’t happen here.’ They go out and spread the word. And that’s how you keep crime down; making everyone a part of the process of safety.”