I first met Hikeen Crampton in April 2001. He was in the Baltimore Police academy, a star student who had been watched over by a veteran cop in the Western District. That cop had first met Hikeen when he was a little boy, who instead of hanging out with drug dealers hung out with the cops.
Officer Steven W. Sturm adoped the little boy and let him wear his had (at left, Sturm photographs Crampton, holding his child, at police graduation, in a photo by The Sun's Amy Davis). When Hikeen graduated from the academy, we ran a picture of him wearing the oversized had as a child and his every own hat as a new city cop. I went along with him on his first shift and watched him as he proudly reclaimed the drug turf that had so upset him as a child.
I lost touch with Hikeen over the years but did note that he made the news at least twice -- once for helping arrest suspected drug dealers who were part of the infamous Stop Snitching video that encouraged the youth to shun police, and later for getting an award for helping Baltimore County police.
But on Friday we got word that Hikeen had been charged with filing a fraudulent insurance claim on a car. He's been suspended and faces termination if convicted. A sad way to end a career that appeared to be one of the great success stories. At left, he makes his first arrest back in 2001. This photo also was taken by Davis.
Here is the article from 2001 on Hikeen:
The snapshot shows a skinny, shirtless kid from a tough neighborhood wearing an oversized police hat, his outstretched arms embracing a child's fantasy of someday becoming a cop.
More than a decade later, the grown boy strikes a nearly identical pose, youthful exuberance replaced by a confident gaze, in another photo. This time, the police hat is his own.Hikeen D. Crampton Sr., whose childhood bedroom overlooked one of the city's most notorious drug corners - Mosher and North Calhoun streets in West Baltimore - has returned home to exorcise the demons of his youth.
The 22-year-old graduated from the police academy Monday and requested assignment to the Western District, a rough slice of decaying real estate that Crampton says has only gotten worse since his days growing up at 1401 Mosher St.
His old neighborhood is pockmarked by vacant lots created by the city to rid streets of boarded rowhouses. "R.I.P." graffiti cover storefronts and dwellings - public death notices of the young men gunned down in the pursuit of drug profits.
"Everywhere you turn you see `Rest In Peace,'" Crampton said on his first day patrolling his old neighborhood, standing in front of his childhood home. "It reminds you of a cemetery - it just doesn't have any tombstones."
He is an adult now, living in the suburbs. But he has returned to the Western District with a gun and a badge and a uniform - power to arrest the very people who once tried to lure him into the deadly drug game with promises of flashy sneakers, fast cash and lots of women.
"Some people ask me, `Why do you want to come back?'" Crampton said. "I want to help my community."
Crampton, the youngest of 10 children, grew up listening to the sounds of the drug trade. Lying on his bed perched above the bustling corner, he watched the dealers and the addicts and heard the pops from guns. Classmates were arrested, shot or killed.
Each time a siren blared, Hikeen ran to his window. And on slow, hot summer days, he and his friends wandered over to the Harlem Park Elementary School parking lot, where officers from the "mighty" Western District parked to eat their lunch and write their reports.
It was there he befriended Officer Steven W. Sturm, who had been on the force about two years, and was a proud member of a group who called themselves "Big Tough Cops."
Each youngster adopted an officer. "He picked me," Sturm said.
Lunch turned into full-time mentoring. Sturm kept a constant eye out for his new friend, and when he wasn't working, he drafted colleagues to do the same. If Hikeen was hanging with the wrong crowd, or in the wrong place, Sturm made sure he got home to mom.
The kids would imitate the officers. Hikeen always pretended to be Sturm, and he relished every chance to wear the officer's hat.
"If some other kid had the hat on his head, he would throw a fit," said Sturm, who snapped the photograph of the shirtless Hikeen about 14 years ago and is now an officer in the police dog unit. "To see him today, it's wild. The big joke is that he'll make major before I'm a sergeant."
Crampton's mother, Carolee Boyer, said it was difficult to raise a family at Mosher and Calhoun.
"If parents don't keep behind their kids," she said, "the kids will go buck wild. Hikeen never dealt with a lot of kids on that block. He used to say, `They up to no good.'"
Boyer's other children include a security guard, a printing press supervisor, a mover and a church deacon. Her children now grown, she has moved from Mosher Street to another part of West Baltimore. "There was so much drugs and crime," she said.
Crampton graduated from Douglass High School, managed a McDonald's on Liberty Road and then went to the police academy.
His mother and Sturm, holding Crampton's 2-year-old son, Hikeen Jr., came to the graduation ceremony at the War Memorial Building across from City Hall.
There, the day's featured speaker, Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell, spoke of a recent survey of elementary school students in which few put police officers high on a list of people they could trust.
"This is terrible," Mitchell told the class. "And it is something only you can correct. This is done one child, and one officer, at a time."
Crampton now patrols the streets of his youth, keeps a sharp eye on the people he once feared and protects children much like himself a decade ago.
The officer returned to his old rowhouse the day after graduation. A handwritten sign in the new occupants' window states: "Please do not sit on steps!" He knows but a handful of neighbors, and many homes have either been boarded up or torn down - replaced by empty lots used as open-air trash receptacles.
As a child, Crampton was sometimes frightened by his own street. Now, as he pulls up in a police cruiser, the block quickly empties - community deference for the man in uniform.
"I would like to see big changes here," Crampton said. "But what I want to do I can't do myself. We need the community's help."
Crampton is teamed with Officer David J. Maynard, who himself grew up in a tough neighborhood - East 20th and Kennedy streets in East Baltimore.
The lure of the drug corner was hard to ignore for him as well. "Everybody you know is out there," Maynard said as he and Crampton cruised the west-side streets. "It was cool, and it was what all the ladies liked. I had my temptations. It was a struggle."
Crampton said classmates called him a snitch and a rat for befriending police officers and tried to lure him into their fold by showing off fancy footwear purchased by selling cocaine.
"It was easy money, but it wasn't honest money," Crampton said, as he and his new partner headed to a drug call. An anonymous 911 caller complained that a man wearing a tan coat was selling drugs at Wheeler Avenue and West Baltimore Street.
Maynard slowed at the corner and eyed the stragglers near a graffiti wall that proclaimed "Soldiers never forgotten," followed by the nicknames of the dead, honoring casualties of the drug war.
This call would end with Maynard spotting a man in a tan coat. "Let's get him," he cried out, stopping the cruiser.
One arrest, one small amount of suspected heroin worth $10 on the street. One small battle won.
The day before, Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris told Crampton and his fellow graduates that "we are the good guys" in the fight for a safer city.
Mayor Martin O'Malley reminded them that they are not an occupying army.
"The most important shield that you have against the dealers, the death and drugs that have too often occupied our neighborhoods," he said, "are the good, decent, hard-working and holy people that live in every single block of this city."
No one knows that more than Crampton. Back at his old Harlem Park rowhouse, the young officer simply shook his head at the despair around him. Three families he grew up with remain, but none was outside.
A drifter approached - he insisted his first name had a dollar sign among the collection of letters - and wanted to pose with Crampton for a picture.
The two sat on the officer's old steps, chatting and laughing about nothing in particular.
"This is not a bad neighborhood," Crampton said. Then he stood, glanced up the street, relieved and satisfied, and said with renewed confidence:
"I made it."