Flan Couch Jr., 79, chief of security at Morgan, Baltimore police officer

January 21, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Flan Couch Jr., a retired Baltimore police officer who helped to establish the city department's Community Relations Division, and later was chief of security at Morgan State College, where he once played on championship football teams, died Tuesday of a stroke at Union Memorial Hospital. The Hanlon Park resident was 79.

Mr. Couch was one of the first African-Americans to join the Police Department in 1952. After graduation from the police academy, he was assigned as a patrolman at the Northeastern District and later the Eastern District.

In 1961, he was appointed to the Criminal Investigation Division, where he worked as a detective until 1966, when he joined the newly established Community Relations Division. He retired in 1972.

"He wanted to teach school and physical education, but there were no openings at the two black high schools, and he didn't want to work in the post office, so he applied to the Police Department," said a son, Earl El-Amin, president of the Muslim American Society of Baltimore and a resident of Ashburton.

"He had a gentle spirit and always looked for the best in people," Mr. El-Amin said.

He recalled his father speaking about departmental discrimination during the early days of his career and his determination to rise above it: "There was discrimination, for instance, because he was black and a college graduate. But he said you simply had to fight through it."

An athletically built man with a large smile, Mr. Couch's ability to work with all types of people made him an instant asset to the Community Relations unit.

"Couch was a gentle giant who was a very, very kind and intelligent individual," said Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice and Baltimore's first black police commissioner.

He and Mr. Couch had known each other since their student days at Morgan and were in the same police recruiting class.

"He was one of the old stalwarts in the Community Relations Division and was there when it first started. He was good because he was good with people," said Mike O'Hara, a 34-year veteran of the department who retired as a lieutenant in 1994.

"He was very well-thought-of and a very pleasant fellow. He was able to talk to people or community groups, find out their concerns, and try to take care of them before they developed into larger problems. In many ways, he was a liaison between the department and community," he said.

After retiring in 1972, Mr. Couch became director of security at Morgan State College, where he had earned his bachelor's degree in physical education in 1950. During his administration, the security department became a unit of the Maryland State Police, and he was promoted to chief of the unit. He retired a second time in 1983.

Born Earl Flannigan Couch Jr. in Chase City, Va., he spent his early years in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was sent to St. Paul Polytechnic Institute in Lawrenceville, Va., a high school, from which he graduated in 1940.

He had his name legally changed to Flan Couch Jr., and enrolled at Morgan State College. Known as "Beetle," "Hammer" or "Big Man," he played center on the college football team. He was a member of the 1941, 1943 and 1946 championship teams, coached by Eddie Hurt, and played alongside such well-known players as Clarence "Big House" Gaines and Joe Black.

Mr. Couch was a member of the Morgan Varsity M Club and of Morgan's Hall of Fame.

His college education was interrupted in 1943, when he enlisted in the Army and served in the European Theater with an infantry transportation unit. He was discharged with the rank of technical sergeant in 1945.

During the late 1940s, he also played professional baseball with the famed Elite Giants of the American Negro League.

For years, he managed the Forest Park Little League, leading teams to statewide and regional championships.

A big-band, jazz and swing-era enthusiast, Mr. Couch enjoyed sitting in his club cellar listening to records from his extensive collection.

An avid vegetable gardener, he enjoyed giving away the bounty from his garden to family and neighbors, said family members.

Mr. Couch was a member of the Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

He was married in 1950 to Ruby Keyes, who survives him.

Services will be held at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at March Funeral Home, 4300 Wabash Ave., Baltimore.

Mr. Couch also is survived by another son, Eric El-Amin of Woodlawn; and four grandchildren.

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