New police chief enjoys a challenge

Antonio Williams, a city officer for 20 years, starts job as head of schools force Nov. 15

Baltimore & Region

October 31, 2005|By SARA NEUFELD | SARA NEUFELD,SUN REPORTER

When city police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm was a sergeant training Antonio Williams in the Baltimore police academy, Williams asked him a lot of questions.

"He wanted to know every single thing I knew about police work," Hamm recalled. In the 20 years since, the two have had an understanding, according to Hamm: "As long as he wanted to be filled with knowledge, I would fill him with knowledge. I have been kind of a mentor to him."

Now Williams is becoming chief of the Baltimore school police force, a position Hamm held from 1997 to 2001. Williams said he took the job because leading a police department is "really my ultimate goal," though he would not say whether he aspires to follow Hamm a step further, to the helm of the city force.

It is clear that the two men share a philosophy on school policing: When officers get to know students and become a part of school communities, they can identify conflicts and intervene before they turn violent.

"Our priority will be on prevention," said Williams, a 41-year-old colonel with experience in virtually every area of the city Police Department. He is leaving a job as chief of the detectives division, where he oversees 300 people in units including homicide, arson and the crime lab.

In his new job, which he is scheduled to begin Nov. 15, Williams will oversee 161 sworn and nonsworn personnel. He and Hamm said they share the goal of improving communication between the city and school police departments.

School system officials say that communication has gotten better in recent months, and they believe that's one of the reasons there has been less violence in schools this academic year. Last school year, instruction was frequently interrupted by a series of arson fires.

Williams comes to the position with a parent's perspective, something that made him an attractive job candidate to Bonnie S. Copeland, the school system's chief executive officer. He has a daughter who is a junior at Dr. Samuel L. Banks High School and another daughter in eighth grade at Hamilton Elementary/Middle.

Born in East Baltimore, Williams is the eldest of three children. As a child, he moved around so often that he attended five elementary schools: four in the city and one in Anne Arundel County. He is a graduate of Polytechnic Institute.

After high school, Williams worked a series of jobs, including as a private investigator. In that capacity, he interacted with police officers, who asked why he didn't become "a real cop." So he did.

While working full time in the city Police Department, he said, he earned his associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees. Last month, he completed 10 weeks of study at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va.

Of his many jobs on the city force, he said he has most enjoyed working as a drug enforcement officer and serving as commander of the Western District.

At the school police department, Williams takes the place of former Chief Paul Benson, who resigned in June along with his two top deputies. Despite the change in administration, Williams said, "My position is not to come here and turn the place upside-down. I'm not here to see how many people I can get out. My job is to provide model leadership."

He said he plans to be visible in the community, just as he expects his officers to be.

"I'm not looking for something easy," he said. "I love a challenge."

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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