Policing from the heart: Md. department's Haitian Relief Unit
Seven officers with the Prince George's County (Md.) Police Department are taking 'community policing' to the next level
When Prince George’s County Maryland Police Chief Roberto Hylton learned of the earthquake in Haiti, the first thing he did was to reach out to the seven police officers of Haitian descent who work in his department. He personally called each officer and expressed his condolences and concern. He made them aware that he was available to help, asked them what they needed, and informed them that his door was open for them. He also afforded them the opportunity to take time off they felt they needed, though none accepted that offer.
Chief Hylton subsequently met with them collectively in his office and pulled them off their regular assignments. He allowed them to work as a team within the police department to render aid to Haiti, and the Haitian Relief Unit was created. It is located within the Community Services Division of the department under the command of Major Rex Barrett. Corporal Conrad D. D’Haiti is in charge of the unit. The seven officers who comprise the unit are Corporal Moise Apollon, Corporal Natalie Proctor, PFC Joel Benjamin, PFC Dato Dacilien, PFC Wantalex Tilus, Officer Diderot Alerte, and the aforementioned Corporal D’Haiti.
As a unit, the Haitian officers represent the department and are present in the community to put a face on the tragedy and the relief effort that has affected their country and their own families. Their goal is to raise money for Haiti and to ensure that 100 percent of the money goes to the people of Haiti.
“What they are doing is outstanding in that they will have a significant impact on the citizens of Haiti and Prince George’s County,” said Major Rex Barrett, the commander in charge of their unit.
Each officer within the unit was deeply impacted by the events that transpired in Haiti. For Corporal Apollon, who has family and friends in Haiti, he learned that some close friends of his family had died and people he had grown up with had perished in the earthquake. An aunt whom he had just visited in August died.
“It shook me up,” he said. He explained he has experienced a migraine since he received news of the earthquake. “I can’t eat. I can’t really sleep. CNN is the only lifeline. My heart belongs there. Technically, I feel I should be there. My heart goes out to my chief. For him to extend his hand to our Haitian officers, he’s a special person, and I thank God for him. Words alone cannot express the gratitude for what he is doing for us,” Corporal Apollon said.
“It was a shock. It didn’t really hit me until the next day,” said Officer Diderot Alert after learning of the news.
Also touched by Chief Hylton’s actions was Corporal Conrad D’Haiti. “It was impressive,” he said. “We are the face of the department to support Haiti. We get out and represent the department and ourselves to put a face to the relief effort and the tragedy in dealing with our own families and country,” he said.
“I have never experienced a chief with such a heart as Chief Hylton. He is truly a man who shows leadership by example. He is a visionary,” said Corporal Natalie Proctor. She also had the opportunity to meet with Haitian Ambassador Raymond Joseph at the Haitian Embassy. “It was an informational session. We got a chance to know each other. The Chief and Ambassador share humility,” Corporal Proctor said.
“My whole goal is to fulfill the vision of Chief Hylton on how he would like us to handle this catastrophe. The ramifications of the earthquake hit this country,” said Corporal Proctor. “What can we do to help? How can we provide the most effective assistance to Haiti?”
They began the process of by getting the word out about the officers of Haitian descent so that members of the community would know they exist within the police department. Officers within the unit are gaining the trust of the community and are also available to help if there are Haitian victims of crime in the community. Members of the unit split assignments to avoid burnout by any one individual.
During their first week in existence, they conducted three radio interviews. Members of the unit spoke to church congregations in the community. “It was kind of a whirlwind for the first week with all the different things we were doing,” said PFC Joel Benjamin. Following the radio shows, there was an apparent increase in the number of people visiting the police department to provide donations.
Donations can be brought to the police department between the hours of 9 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. where a table is staffed with personnel. Substantial support has been provided by other county employees. One Friday alone, donations netted $1,900.00. A significant amount of support has also been offered by fellow officers once they learned of the Haitian Relief Unit. Several donated $500.00 out of their individual pockets. “Even if it is just one person who gives us a dollar, it’s a dollar we didn’t have,” PFC Dato Dacilien said.
The unit is engaging in outreach efforts with Haitian churches. They are also visiting schools and businesses wherein they are explaining their task in helping Haiti and are asking for support from these entities.
“We’re meeting people, talking, speaking with people that have any affiliation to Haiti for us to determine the best avenues to assist that country,” Corporal Proctor said. A number of calls have been received from Haitian people indicating they are appreciative for what the police are doing.
“I told my mother about this. She’s ecstatic. I feel wonderful,” said PFC Joel Benjamin. “Before the unit, I felt helpless. When I found out about the unit, I was speechless. For the chief of this department to extend this type of effort, it was something big to me and the people in Haiti will be happy about it. I feel like I can do something for country,” said PFC Dato Dacilien.
In addition to raising money to provide assistance to the people of Haiti, the Haitian Relief Unit has one additional goal — the members are planning to travel to Haiti to deliver the donations once they are all collected. “I can’t wait for us to be in that plane. I’ve got to be there. I will feel relieved by experiencing it myself instead of just seeing it on TV,” Corporal Apollon said.
“What Chief Hylton has done for these officers, the Haitian community, and the citizens of Prince George’s County Maryland is truly amazing. He often talks about policing from the heart, and he definitely practices what he preaches."
“As peace keepers, as law enforcement officers in 2010, our ultimate goal is to live in a peaceful world. We must help them to help ourselves,” Corporal Proctor said. And that challenge is being undertaken wholeheartedly by the Haitian Relief Unit ...a group working toward making a genuine difference in Haiti.
Donations can be made as follows:
Checks can be made out to:
FOP Lodge #89
In the memo section of the check, it is vital to write: “Haitian Relief Fund.”
Checks can be mailed to:
Prince George’s County Maryland Police Department
Community Services Division
Attn: Haitian Relief Fund
Palmer Park, Maryland 20785