James H. Watkins, 79, a pioneer among city's black police officers

December 08, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

James H. Watkins, owner of a Baltimore-based security agency who in the 1970s became the second-highest-ranking African-American in the city Police Department, died of complications from diabetes Dec. 1 at his Mount Washington home. He was 79.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Presstman Street, he attended city public schools and as a boy held jobs delivering The Sun and working at Carter's Bakery on nearby Gilmor Street.

He served in the Army and earned the rank of master sergeant. While in the service, he received his General Educational Development certificate.

He joined the police force in 1951 and was assigned to foot patrol in the Northwestern District. He later had posts in the Northern District, Criminal Investigation Division, Inspectional Services and Tactical Squad.

A tall man, he was known as "the Bear" - an allusion both to his physical power and air of confidence.

"He was a tremendous leader and inspiration to all the young African-American men who came on the force in the 1960s," said Detective Oscar L. Requer.

In 1971, then-Police Commissioner Donald D. Pomerleau named him a major and, four years later, a lieutenant colonel. His commendations included four bronze stars for arrests and other accomplishments.

"His calm, quiet demeanor has been in evidence on numerous occasions, especially in March 1977 when he was confronted by an enraged man who had taken over the welfare office at Mondawmin Mall," The Sun reported in 1978. "He demonstrated that he could handle the situation calmly and succeeded in negotiating with the gunman to surrender without any injuries or a single shot being fired."

His 28 years on the force ended in controversy, with two trials in 1979 on charges alleging bribery. Convictions in the first were overturned, and in the second a jury found him not guilty.

Mr. Watkins announced his retirement after the second trial, telling a Sun reporter, "My wife and mother requested that they'd like to see me retire. I feel they've had enough; it's been an awful strain on them."

In 1981, he founded Watkins Security Agency - which became part of the Watkins Group of five businesses, including Amoco filling stations, that he owned. He employed nearly 800 security officers and co-founded Watkins Security Agency of Washington.

A former board member of Harbor Bank of Maryland, he also belonged to the Council for Equal Business Opportunity and the Maryland-District of Columbia Minority Supplier Development Council.

An animal lover, he had two miniature pinschers, Nyjil and Kibibe, and took them on camping trips and vacations.

He enjoyed travel and had visited Europe and had a second home in Cape Town, South Africa, where for a time he had a branch of his security business.

He was a member of the Masons' Prince Hall Lodge.

Services were held Monday at Macedonia Baptist Church, where Mr. Watkins was a trustee and lifelong member. Attendees included Mayor Martin O'Malley and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings.

Survivors include his wife of 27 years, the former Goldie Macer Moore; four sons, James H. Watkins Jr., Michael E. Watkins and Brian I. Watkins, all of Baltimore, and Hayden C. Moore of Ellicott City; eight daughters, Veda A. Seymore, Juanita Watkins-Moore, Edna L. Smith, Annette E. Dawson and Jeanette E. Smith, all of Baltimore, Joyce A. Smith of Owings Mills, Ellen M. Perry of Randallstown and Sharon L. Moore of Darien, Conn.; a sister, Rebecca C. Gale of Baltimore; 21 grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.

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