- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 22, 2009

For most people, the image of a uniformed police officer brings to mind the idea of a cop on the beat who writes tickets and responds to accidents. However, in the Prince George’s County Police Department, there also are multitalented officers with skills that reach beyond the scope of their law enforcement duties.

Prince George’s Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton, along with Lt. Col. Michael Blow, are tapping into the musical talents of their officers. They are leading the effort to support the recently established Rhythm and Blues Band, which is made up of 10 officers, Capt. Robert Gibson; Sgt. Michael Hunt; Cpls. Alfred Moss, Edwin Robertson, Harold Banks and Emmett Driggers; Pfc. Vincent Tabbs; Officers Sharon Pittman, Patrick McClam and Eddie Martin; two civilian police department employees, Mark Coakley and Kimberly Scott; and the drummer, Robert “Mousey” Thompson, who played for the late James Brown.

Though the police department had a band a number of years ago, it fell by the wayside because officers did not have time to participate because of the demands of their shifts.

Chief Hylton and Col. Blow recognized the impact the Rhythm and Blues Band could have in the community with its ability to entertain as well as demonstrate that police are people, too, which can have a tremendous effect on youths.

“We never realized the depths of the musicianship within the department,” said Capt. Gibson, who is the highest-ranking officer in the band but not the band leader. “I have to give credit to Corporal Alfred Moss. He is the man behind the scenes. He is the leader of the band. Rank is not an issue when it comes to musicianship.”

After two weeks of rehearsals, the band’s first performance on Nov. 14 consisted of two guitar players, a bass player, a keyboardist, drummer, sax player, a horn section and vocalists. The auditorium at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Md., was packed with young people for the late-afternoon Youth Explosion event.

“It took a lot of initiative on people’s parts to bring this together and make it happen. There is a high level of dedication among the officers that are playing in this group,” Capt. Gibson said.

Among their arrangements, the band plays Michael Jackson’s “The Girl Is Mine.” “We try to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. We try and bring in some pop-type music and do our own spin,” Capt. Gibson said.

The officers sign up to play in the band, and they are in uniform when they perform. Chief Hylton is so committed to this endeavor that if officers are on duty, they are allowed administrative leave. If they are off duty, they are granted overtime to rehearse or perform. The command staff and supervisory personnel have been accommodating in this effort. Officers will come in off the street, rehearse and go back on patrol.

“Every time we rehearse, there are more people,” Capt. Gibson said.

Not all the musicians perform at the same time. “We use certain people for certain gigs,” Cpl. Moss said.

The Rhythm and Blues Band performs at community events and schools.

“This is something we do to reach out to the community,” Capt. Gibson said.

The impetus behind the band is to encourage young people to resist the urge to participate in gang-related activities. The band’s goal is to gain youths’ attention through the use of music and show young people that there is a humanistic side of policing.

“We are all human, too. We are diverse in our talents, and we like some of the things [young people] do. It gives us a chance to interact with them and, perhaps, encourage them to engage in Police Explorers and police athletic programs,” Cpl. Moss said.

“We are trying to present the police department in a positive way. Cops do things other than write tickets,” Capt. Gibson said.

The band extends itself to a lot of different people, including various ethnic groups and ages. A senior citizen can enjoy the band’s music as much as a teenager can.

“It gives me an opportunity, at this point in my career, for meaningful opportunity to do what I love to do and what I’ve been trained to do. This is an extra tool for me to do outreach. I’m an ambassador for the police department,” Cpl. Moss said.

“Music is something you take with you throughout your life. That’s why it works so well. Music is the same for everybody aside from ethnicity,” Capt. Gibson said.

The band members hope the influence of their music can encourage the public in general and parents specifically to encourage their children, as well as neighborhood children, to find something they are passionate aboutwhether it is music, art, or something else that is constructive.

“If they can be inspired by listening to cops who can play music and inspire them to go home and pick up something constructive, then we’ve done our job,” Capt. Gibson said.

The response to the band has been positive. “The feedback from officers who heard us is they are surprised we were as good as we are,” Capt. Gibson said. “The overwhelming response is they enjoyed us and believe it will be a very positive thing.”

When Capt. Gibson tells his non-police friends that he plays in the police band, they are not surprised. “Everyone that knows me well knows that I play music all the time. I’m always playing music somewhere.” Capt. Gibson’s interest in music began back in his elementary school days. “I love playing music; I always have,” he said.

The multifaceted police officers in Prince George’s County are proactively using their law enforcement expertise and their musical skills to make a notable impact in police and community relations and to positively influence the lives of those they serve.

Karen L. Bune is a consultant with the Department of Justice and an adjunct professor at George Mason and Marymount universities.

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