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The yr was 1969, and Melvin C. Excessive, in his mid-20s and new to the nation’s capital, was about to make two decisions that might outline his life.

He grew to become a police officer. He went on a blind date.

The date was with Brenda, a university scholar finding out to be a trainer. At first, she wasn’t offered on the newly sworn D.C. police officer, however with time she got here to see the qualities that might make her — and ultimately their wider group — fall in love. He was humble, he was sharp, he was steadfast.

Inside months, they have been married.

“There was no magic formulation or potion,” Brenda Excessive mentioned. “We simply appreciated one another and cared about one another.”

It was the launch of a lifetime collectively, one that might convey them a household and provides Brenda a front-row seat to Excessive’s boundary-breaking 53-year profession in regulation enforcement.

Collectively, they have been trying ahead to Excessive’s retirement as sheriff of Prince George’s County subsequent month, the start of a quieter life after many years in public service. However simply weeks earlier than his ultimate day in workplace, Excessive fell unwell from a blood an infection.

On Nov. 17, at age 78, the sheriff died, Brenda and their daughter by his aspect.

Prince George’s Sheriff Melvin High dies at 78

The area’s regulation enforcement group has mobilized in his reminiscence, assuming his duties on the sheriff’s workplace and making ready a public homegoing service for Nov. 29 to honor a person who broke limitations in policing, rising to assistant chief on the D.C. police division and changing into the primary Black police chief in Norfolk earlier than shifting to Prince George’s County, the place he led the police division as chief and ultimately served 12 years because the elected sheriff.

Alongside the best way, he mentored police leaders throughout the nation and influenced the careers of the area’s prime regulation enforcement officers.

D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III, who met Excessive as an 18-year-old cadet doing grunt work for the command employees, referred to as him an “icon in regulation enforcement.” Prince George’s County Police Chief Malik Aziz mentioned Excessive was lengthy revered by Black officers as an authentic reformist who endured many years of pushback to make change.

“He was the consummate skilled, a real servant chief,” mentioned Darrin C. Palmer, now interim Prince George’s County sheriff, who labored with Excessive for almost 20 years. “He was in nice management, even within the throes of chaos … He had the energy to not simply direct, however to hear, after which make sound selections from all that enter.”

Palmer, who labored with Excessive on the county police division earlier than following him to the sheriff’s workplace, was sworn into the highest job hours after Excessive died. He’ll serve till mid-December, when Sheriff-elect John D.B. Carr — one other Excessive mentee — enters workplace.

Palmer knew he’d need to set mourning for his buddy apart to concentrate on managing the price range, the transition and his “accountability to this company in the best way he would have wished it finished.”

“He didn’t actually accept second greatest,” Palmer mentioned.

Earlier than fixing the sheriff’s badge to his chest, Palmer mentioned, he requested Excessive’s household for his or her blessing.

Excessive, they mentioned, would have wished nothing else.

Raised by a farmer and trainer in rural Mississippi, Excessive grew up in a house constructed by his father. They didn’t have a lot, mentioned his daughter, Tracy, 48, however their home was a loving one. Excessive’s mom taught him via grade college, and in his midteens, he left for faculty.

Excessive studied biology at Tennessee State College, borrowing used books and lab tools. He dreamed of medical college, however his household couldn’t afford it, so he taught highschool science for a yr, his household mentioned, earlier than becoming a member of the Marine Corps and serving in Vietnam.

Then he moved to Washington, the place his sisters lived.

When Excessive joined the police division in 1969, he was one of many few Black officers on the company, family and friends mentioned. On the time, Black officers like him weren’t allowed to journey in a police cruiser, not to mention drive one, so he needed to stroll his beat.

Over his 24 years with the division, Excessive ascended, main the safety preparations for President Invoice Clinton’s first inauguration and incomes a grasp’s diploma and implementing the District’s first group policing effort, according to his official biography. By the top of his tenure, he was second-in-command.

He was often called “grasp ’em Excessive” due to his lofty requirements and stern, no-nonsense method, colleagues mentioned. However behind the scenes, Contee recalled, Excessive was insightful and clever, a “fatherly sort of determine.”

Quickly after his retirement from the D.C. division, Excessive grew to become chief of police in Norfolk, the place he stayed for 10 years. Once more, he launched a group policing initiative, the primary within the metropolis’s historical past. Crime charges fell and belief improved — positioning him as the best candidate when, in 2003, the Prince George’s County Police Division was in want of recent management.

The county, a suburb of almost 1,000,000 individuals exterior Washington, had transitioned from majority White to majority Black and was identified nationwide as a vacation spot for Black professionals.

However for years, group outcry had been rising over a disproportionately White drive and abuse of Black residents. The division’s canine have been mauling individuals, and a Washington Post investigation on the time discovered that, by one measure, Prince George’s police had killed extra individuals between 1990 and 2000 than any main metropolis or county police drive within the nation.

The Justice Division intervened.

Federal authorities gave the division 5 years to alter. As the brand new chief, Excessive was accountable for rebuilding belief with residents and cultivating buy-in from the officers these residents distrusted.

By 2008, when Excessive stepped down as chief, the company had met its deadline, with 94 p.c compliance.

“He was the proper man for the job on the proper time,” mentioned Mark Spencer, who was a deputy state’s lawyer on the time and have become the division’s first inspector common beneath Excessive’s management.

The division rewrote its common orders, the handbook for all insurance policies and procedures; revised the police canine practices; overhauled the use-of-force coverage; and created the county’s first iteration of an early-warning system designed to flag patterns of abuse, Spencer mentioned.

When Excessive stepped down as chief in 2008, he had led three departments over 40 years. However he was not but glad. So in 2010, he launched a marketing campaign for sheriff — his first elected job — and received in a landslide.

It was a credit score, colleagues mentioned, to the belief he’d constructed in the neighborhood.

In each jobs, he met continuously with residents — publicly, privately, with employees, alone. He requested questions and listened. And although he was proof against something resembling a boast or brag, those that knew him mentioned, his workforce persuaded him to allow them to inform the general public about each departments’ progress.

“He’s about getting the work finished,” Palmer mentioned, “and letting the work converse for itself.”

At dwelling, Excessive’s household was largely oblivious to his awards and accolades. Although he labored lengthy hours, usually seven days every week, and had officers throughout the nation searching for his counsel, Excessive tried to maintain work at work.

“At dwelling, he was dad and he was Mel, and that’s who he was,” Tracy mentioned.

However typically, the road between dad and police boss blurred.

Even in school, Excessive gave his daughter a curfew of 11:30 p.m. as a result of, he mentioned, he had the information — and it confirmed that nothing good occurred later than that.

As soon as, when she was an undergraduate at Yale College, Tracy informed her dad and mom she wished to stay off campus. However Excessive was skeptical, nervous in regards to the security of her most well-liked residence in New Haven, Conn., and insisted on making a name — to the town’s police chief. Thirty minutes later, Excessive referred to as Tracy again.

She wouldn’t be residing off-campus, he knowledgeable her, then or anytime sooner or later.

“If I can lead departments of hundreds of women and men, I actually can preserve you protected,” he informed her.

“I knew it wasn’t a battle I may battle,” Tracy mentioned.

She went on to get her regulation diploma from Harvard Legislation Faculty and make associate at a regulation agency in New York. She acquired married and had a son. Her father, Tracy mentioned, was deeply dedicated to her schooling, feeling an obligation to offer alternative. It got here, she believes, from the poverty he grew up with — a frugality that by no means left.

Regardless of the household’s protest, he nonetheless paid the payments by paper verify. He wore outdated acid-washed denims and the identical coat for 20 years. It was only some years in the past that Brenda lastly persuaded him to commerce in his flip cellphone.

By the point Excessive was able to retire, the grandfather’s weekly cellphone calls with 7-year-old Christian had grow to be a staple of the household’s week, subsequent to Sunday Mass and his morning routine with Brenda.

Day by day, he would wake and pray, then get in an hour of cardio. Brenda would make him a smoothie, after which he’d drink his espresso.

Earlier than he walked out the door, they’d have the identical trade.

“Take care,” he would say.

“I’ll goodbye,” she’d reply.

Excessive was most glad when he was serving, his household mentioned, which is why that they had teased him each time he retired from one policing job — solely to seek out one other. However he had promised Brenda that his third time period as sheriff could be his final.

When he fell unwell final month, she checked him into the hospital, the place he stayed for 3 weeks. As he healed from the an infection and issues associated to his coronary heart, Excessive was alert and optimistic, speaking to Tracy on daily basis on the cellphone. They have been simply weeks away from a brand new period, one with extra journey and extra leisure, possibly a apartment in New York Metropolis in order that they could possibly be nearer to Tracy and her household.

They’d wished to throw him a retirement celebration, a celebration of his lengthy profession, however he had refused.

All that fuss wasn’t his model.

‘Take care and have religion’

When he was elected sheriff in 2010, Excessive’s workforce from the police division adopted him, bettering accountability, incomes the company prime accreditation and launching the county’s annual Purple Mild Nights program to lift consciousness about home violence.

However over these 12 years within the sheriff’s workplace, in addition they watched as tensions between the group and the police division he had as soon as led escalated as soon as extra, culminating in 2020 with the deadly capturing of a person by a Prince George’s officer, the nationwide racial rebellion over police brutality and a lawsuit filed by Black and Latino officers about inner racism on the county drive.

As soon as once more, there was a name for brand new management. Aziz, a reformer from Texas, was employed as chief.

Prince George’s County’s new police chief will be Malik Aziz, a deputy chief from Dallas

Quickly after his arrival, Excessive invited Aziz to his workplace. He understood the challenges earlier than Aziz — and shared the encouraging message that others had given him. Aziz, Excessive mentioned, was the proper particular person on the proper time for the job.

“He would say, ‘Take care and have religion, all the things goes to be okay,’ ” Aziz mentioned.

When Aziz would ask residents to call the perfect period of policing in Prince George’s, they might at all times say the identical factor: when Sheriff Excessive was chief.

So when Excessive introduced that his profession in policing would finish in December, Aziz knew he wished to honor his legacy. So the sheriff’s workplace and police division staffs devised a secret plan for this fall’s commencement ceremony of the police academy’s new recruitment class.

Sitting onstage earlier than the officers he helped form, Excessive realized {that a} management award had been named for him.

The sheriff, ordinarily stoic, allowed himself to beam.





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