By Rachel Ravina, Staff Writer
(Feb. 28, 2019) Former Berlin Police Department officer David Lockwood Sr., 70, walked into the new station on Decatur Street last Wednesday to share some history.
Much to the surprise of members of the department, including Chief Arnold Downing, Lockwood had found an old newspaper article tucked behind his high school diploma that he’d been looking for, for some time.
The story, titled “Lockwood new member of force,” included a quote from Lockwood that there had “never been a black policeman in Berlin and I decided that now is the time for the black population to be represented on the force.”
Downing, 51, said he appreciated hearing the story behind the article from Lockwood, and he shared a photo of the article and the two of them together on the “Berlin Police Department, Maryland” Facebook page.
The post was tagged “#BlackHistory” as it commemorated the month-long observance in February. As of Wednesday morning, it received hundreds of positive reactions, as well as more than 100 comments and shares.
Downing said the visit from Lockwood meant a lot.
“I’m the first African-American chief of police, and to have him walk in the door and provide that true legacy of where everything actually started from … that was definitely something that was inspiring in it of itself,” Downing said.
Lockwood was 23 years old when he was first sworn in as an officer in 1971. However, local law enforcement wasn’t his initial goal.
“I wanted to be a state trooper, but I found out I didn’t meet the height requirement,” he said.
It turned out he missed his chance by only an inch-and-a-half.
Lockwood said Shumway Brtittingham, a community member in Berlin who frequently attended council meetings, approached him about an opening at the Berlin Police Department. He went for an interview with then-Chief Robert Jones and said he was highly recommended.
When asked why he wanted to be a policeman, Lockwood’s answer was simple.
“I said, ‘Well there’s never been an African-American policeman in Berlin, and I think it would be nice if the African-American population would be represented,’” he said.
The Berlin native was only on the force for one year, but in that time he tried to be “firm, friendly and fair” when dealing with the townspeople.
“I learned early on you’re better off hav[ing] friends rather than enemies,”
Lockwood said. “I was firm with people, but was fair with them at the same time, [and] friendly with them because I never knew when I might need [a friend] after midnight, whatever the situation may be.”
In a small town like Berlin, Lockwood said he always did his best to form relationships.
“I’ve always kept this in my mind: no man is an island,” he said. “Everybody needs help sometimes … be fair with everybody, because you never know when you’re going to need that person.”
He said there were five Berlin Police officers during that time and remembered having to work the late shift alone, which was from midnight to 8 a.m.
Adjusting to life as the first African-American officer was not always easy.
Lockwood recalled a businessperson in Berlin telling him, “Now that we’ve got you here we can go over on Flower Street, which was an all-black community, and keep them straight over there.”
However, Lockwood simply said he took an oath to serve and protect all people.
“Wherever there’s a law that needs to be taken care of … whether it’s on the east side of Berlin or on the west side, I’m gonna do my duty and be fair with everybody, not just one side of the town,” he said.
Lockwood recalled other times where he “felt like [he] was being tested” while on duty. He remembered an instance when he’d written a warning ticket to a driver, and when he returned to the station the same driver was also there, asking the police chief why he was issued a ticket. But, he said, the chief was steadfast in his support.
“He said, ‘If Lockwood wrote it, you deserved it,’” Lockwood said. “The chief always stuck by what I decided on.“
On another occasion, he saw a business’s door left open with money left on the table. He then contacted the chief who told him to “secure the building” and “write a report.”
In yet another instance, he found “a large sum of money” left sticking out of a night deposit bag.
“It made me feel like I was being tested to see how honest I was,” Lockwood said.
He took the bag to the police station and called the business owner, “and they couldn’t believe I had done that. It was my job.”
Lockwood said it took roughly six months for people to fully accept him.
“After a while they understood that I was for real, and I developed a good relationship with a lot of the townspeople,” Lockwood said. “And after that they went along with me. [They] treated me well, but initially it was not like that.”
After one year at the Berlin Police Department, married with a new baby, Lockwood said he had just bought a house and decided to instead take a job with Worcester County.
He went on to work with the Worcester County Sanitary Commission, as head custodian for Stephen Decatur High School, a school bus contractor, and with the Maryland Parks Service, but Lockwood keeps a special place in his heart for law enforcement. He encouraged others to follow in that pursuit.
“If you’re tall enough and you can get into it, do it,” Lockwood said.
He felt his time on the force positively impacted the community because “people had told me I was a trailblazer, because I was [a] … young black man doing this.”
Just like in his interview nearly 50 years ago, Lockwood said he simply saw a need that needed to be filled.
“I know we needed that,” he said. “Every taxpayer needed to be represented and [they weren’t] at that time.”
In the last half-a-century, Lockwood has seen a change in the community. He said he there was once a line that divided the town: Route 113.
“It used to be an east side, west side thing. The east side was the African-American side. The west side was a Caucasian side, but now there’s more of a blend,” Lockwood said. “They are all blended together on both sides of the town now living in both sides of the town, and it’s a lot better than what it was.”
Lockwood has since moved to Bishopville, but still has pride for his former hometown.
“I’m really proud of the community now of how things have turned completely around,” he said. “I’m so proud that we have an African-American chief here.”
Downing has served as the Berlin Police Department’s chief since December 2002. He was born in Virginia, raised in Selbyville, and now lives in Berlin.
While he was the first African-American chief in Berlin, he was not the first in the county.
Orlando Blake, the former chief of the Snow Hill Police Department, holds that honor. Blake retired in 1997 after serving 26 years on the force, according to africanamericanpride.net.
“[Blake] actually has a little bit of time on me. He did 26 years at [the] Snow Hill [Police Department], but 19 of those as chief of police,” Downing said. “That’s another piece of inspiration to itself.”
There are 14 members currently on the Berlin Police force, but Downing said he’s the only African-American officer.
While Downing said, “there are always going to be racial barriers,” he also emphasized the importance of respecting people equally.
“We’re talking about actually accepting people for who they are,” he said. “Respecting all people … [is] one thing we have to go ahead and keep at the forefront of our minds.”
Downing said accessibility is key when forming and maintaining good relationships with community members.
“We have to be willing to go ahead and meet people where they are, in the good times and in the bad,” he said. “Hopefully, we get to … build relationships when things are good, and when issues do arise they know that they can trust us. They know we’ll try to do our best and that’s all we really can do.”