One of Middletown’s first police officers retires: Howard reflects on changes in 42-year career
MIDDLETOWN -- During the early years of Raymond Howard’s career as a police officer, he was dispatched to a home for the sexual abuse of a 5-year-old boy by the boyfriend of the child’s mother.
“[In the 1980s], there wasn't a specialized unit for every little thing, so I got called,” he said.
Howard said during the man’s trial — that ultimately convicted him — the child took an interest in his Baltimore Police Department patch on his uniform, so he gave one to the young boy.
Years later, he was checking on a crash victim at Sinai Hospital in the city where he ran into a nurse who recognized him: it was the mother of the 5-year-old boy.
She told Howard her son graduated from high school, went to college where he kept the patch framed in his college dorm room, and later became a counselor for children who are sexual assault victims.
“It optimized what a police officer is and the impact they can have on one individual if not multiple,” he said full of emotion. “When she told me about the patch, it just meant everything … It's one of the amazing things that police work can do.”
Howard was one of the first 20 officers of the Middletown Police Department when it was founded in 2007, and he retired in September after serving the town for 13 years.
From technology upgrades of body cameras to negative perceptions of policing in 2020, the 62-year-old officer has seen the industry change significantly during his 42 years in the field, but his love for his work has not wavered.
From Baltimore to Middletown
Born and raised in Baltimore, his dream was to work for the Baltimore Police Department, but the department was having hiring restrictions in 1978 when the then-19-year-old was looking to join the force.
He spent his first few years as a cadet at the Anne Arundel County Police Department in Maryland. In 1980, his dream came true.
“I was assigned to the southeast district,” he said. “It was one of the most dangerous areas in Baltimore at the time.”
In his third year with the BPD, he was shot in the shoulder during a car chase and crash. The suspects he was chasing stole his partner’s gun.
Although he was young and new to the field, this traumatic incident didn’t discourage him in any way because policing is what he always wanted to do.
“It didn't really affect me. It made me a little more weary, but if anything, I went back quicker than I should have. The doctor didn't want me to go back. He wanted to make sure my arm was mobile. I wanted to get back to it,” Howard said. “[My fellow officers] depended on me, and I depended on them.”
The 62-year-old said people don’t understand the bond and loyalty officers have to each other when everyone in the field is put in life-threatening situations.
Even now, he said cadets from his 1980 recruiting class still meet up.
"We were a family basically,” he said.
On his worst days, he has been glad to have his wife of 40 years by his side.
“She has been the best police wife I could ask for,” he said. “She has been there when I have been down about things. She knows me so well. She knows when I want to vent. She knows when I want to be by myself,” he said. “She keeps me in the right frame of mind.”
After working as an officer in the southeastern district, he was moved into a newly formed traffic crash reconstruction unit — the process of investigating, analyzing, and drawing conclusions about the causes and events during a vehicle collision — which turned into one of his favorite aspects of police work.
"To me it's one of the most important jobs in the police department,” Howard said. “You’re basically speaking for the dead, like a homicide unit.”
He spent 16 years in the unit, earning recognition as an expert in the Maryland and Baltimore courts for his specialization on traffic collisions. Howard said becoming an expert in this sector of policing has been his favorite part of his work because of its basis in physical evidence.
“I would rather have a multitude of physical evidence than 20 human beings. Because, witnesses, they tend to see what they want to see or fill in the blanks of what they might not have seen,” he said.
After spending nearly 30 years in Baltimore, he and his wife decided they were ready to get out of the city. His brother who lived in Delaware at the time told him about a town in northern Delaware that was forming a police department. So at 48 years old and he filled out an application to start somewhere new.
“It was a mishmash of a whole bunch of people who got this police department up and running. I am proud I had something to do with that,” the master sergeant said.
In 2019, Howard detailed all of his experiences as an officer in a book called “Big City to Farmville: Policing in the 20th Century into the 21st Century.”
Howard said policing has changed much throughout the years. Improvements in bullet proof vest, computer upgrades and better guns have all been significant technology changes during his 40 years in the industry, but he said the best change he has seen was the addition of body cameras on officers.
The Middletown Police Department was one of the first in the state to require them on all officers.
“I wish I had [body cameras] in Baltimore,” he said. “I think it is the best tool to come out of police work.”
Policing in 2020
During the past decade, public perception policing has changed dramatically since the issues of police brutality of minorities have made its way into the mainstream. Many public officials and citizens have formed negative opinions calling for changes to protocols, and even some activists calling for the defunding of police departments.
In 42 years of policing, Howard never thought this day would come.
“Never in even a nightmare would I think things would be like they are now,” he said.
He said he has become afraid to keep police bumper stickers on his cars or to wear police department T-shirts because he doesn’t want him and his family to be a target for people.
“I've got a whole closet, a rack half full of things I was so proud of. I am still proud of it, but people are not proud of what I do,” he said. “It's not everybody [who thinks negatively of officers].”
He said there are still people in the Middletown community who show support for them, but it’s not outward. The officers usually receive snacks, pastries and other smaller gifts sent to the station.
Howard thinks it’s a shame that all officers are grouped into the same category as the policeman who killed George Floyd — a man who died in police custody of a Minneapolis officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
“Policing, like anything else, we do the best we can to look into the backgrounds of [police officer recruits] and get the best that we can to put out there, but unfortunately, we miss sometimes,” he said.
When he was working in Baltimore, the police department had a class of 40 recruits coming through every month. Now, it is difficult for the department to get a class together every few months.
"With the climate now, people are really backing away because they are afraid of all this,” the master sergeant said.
While he was still in Baltimore, he started seeing a shift in attitude of new officers. He noticed more people coming through recruiting viewing the work as nothing more than something that would pay the bills.
"They aren't all looking at policing as a profession. I wouldn't say all of them, but some people who look at it as just a job. They don't give 100%,” he said.
Howard’s plan from his first day with the Middletown Police Department to work there for 13 years and then retire, but the public perception of his job pushed him a little more to get out sooner rather than later.
“I won't say the climate alone is the epitome or the catalyst behind my retirement … but I am 62. I can’t run with the best of them anymore,” he said.
Howard’s time in the field spanned five decades, but now he said it is getting more dangerous for him, and retiring later this year is what is best for him and his family.