When Melissa Hyatt stepped up to the podium to address her family, friends, and fellow officers for the first time as the police chief of Baltimore County, she realized that the microphone was set about four inches too high. Wearing her signature spit-shined shoes and tight, low bun, Hyatt tried to pull the microphone down to her 5-foot-2-inch level, but it wouldn’t budge. With the crowd waiting under the warm June sun, Hyatt shrugged, made a “Who cares?” hand gesture, and started her speech anyway.
After all, she had worked too hard for this moment and this position—as not only the county’s new police chief, but its first woman to hold the title—to let anything ruin it. With her badge close to her heart, pinned to her uniform by her father, and more than two decades of local law enforcement service behind her, she finally felt ready to lead the 1,900-person police department. And nothing, not even a stubborn microphone stand, would hold her back from delivering the speech she’d been shaping since she was a young girl.
“Common problem I have,” Hyatt cracked as Major Dennis Delp helped lower the mic. Then, with all eyes on her, she took a deep breath and started again.
When Hyatt was 3 years old, she told her parents, Sidney and Elaine, that she was going to grow up to be a police officer. Sidney, a retired major from the city’s Baltimore Police Department, remembers his youngest daughter climbing onto his lap to read his paperwork on DWIs and traffic statistics. Before she was in kindergarten, she knew the correct way to pick up Sidney’s police hat—one hand on either side, never touching the patent visor—and asked detailed questions about the department’s policies. And as she grew older and became known around the police station as “Major Hyatt’s daughter,” she began to understand the weight of her father’s work.
When Sidney served as a duty officer, he was one of the first people notified when another cop was injured or killed in the line of duty, and Hyatt, now 44, remembers the family’s home phone ringing with grave news on the other side of the line. “I could see, even when I was young, the impact that the death of an officer had on an entire department and community,” she says. To help make sense of the losses, Hyatt began writing poetry, and, although she blushes at the mention of this today, she still remembers the names of the officers she wrote about 30 years ago. “It was always something that I took to heart,” she says.
As the years passed, Hyatt stayed steadfast in her goal of joining the BPD. She graduated from the University of Delaware in 1997 and was one of the inaugural recruits to the Maryland Police Corps, a federal effort to enlist college students to law enforcement. Hyatt says she never imagined starting her career anywhere other than the station where she sat on police motorcycles as a young girl or interned as an undergrad. “There was never a doubt in our minds that Melissa would end up there,” Elaine says.
But Hyatt’s first years on the job weren’t always so easy. There were times when Hyatt knew she was being judged for being a “legacy,” as officers grumbled that she only got her position because of her dad’s tenure. “People look at you a little closer to see if you’re living up to their reputation,” she says. “While I knew I had my dad’s support, it was important to me that I did things on my own.”
Determined to make her own way in the department, Hyatt grinded through those first years by working as hard as she could. She developed a reputation for staying calm under pressure and refusing to let anything break her cool, composed demeanor. Not even the district’s lack of a women’s locker room fazed her; she changed at home and came ready to work.
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