Through the naming of a school a fallen officer lives on
It has been 40 years since the death of Baltimore City Police officer Calvin Rodwell. The elementary school that sits at Hillsdale and Liberty Heights has his name fastened to its building. Whether or not the many drivers and walkers who come across this school everyday know who Calvin Rodwell was, what they do know is that no one gets their name on a building without contribution to a community.
Officer Rodwell was also part of the Police Department’s Officer Friendly Program. Launched around 1970, its purpose was to get inner city youth to trust and feel comfortable with police. More succinctly, it was designed to get Black youngsters to trust the police. After decades of earnestly developing a reputation for brutality and dishonesty, many citizens did not feel comfortable dealing with police, including the youth. The Officer Friendly program allowed officers to visit elementary schools and engage students in the functions of a police officer, which included explaining their uniform and their responsibilities. The program was such a success that some children began calling any officer, ‘officer friendly’. As a member of the program, Officer Rodwell visited several schools and one of them was Lafayette Elementary where the students grew to love him.
Saturday, September 22, 1973 would prove to be a fateful day for Officer Rodwell. Today, what is called in street vernacular “2nd hustle” or “side job”, was known as “moonlighting” in 1973. Baltimore City Police were allowed to take on a second job to supplement their income. Officer Rodwell, like some other officers, drove a cab. The department thought off duty officers driving cabs would cut down on cab robberies.
Heroin was thick in Baltimore and addicts worked desperately to get their money in order to get their fix. It was Friday, September 21, 1973, when Officer Rodwell picked up 28 year old Lewis W. Walker with the destination to Orleans and Asquith Streets. A known drug addict, Walker robbed Officer Rodwell of his money and the cab. Officer Rodwell, whose service gun was still in the cab chased after Walker and subsequently came across a motorist who he levied for help. The motorist, not knowing Rodwell was a police officer, would not help. Continuing the pursuit on foot Rodwell finally came across another cab. He approached the cab driver - Ridgley W. Young - for help. Ironically, Young was part of the robbery. Unbeknowist to Officer Rodwell, Young knew Walker and had loaned him the gun to do the robbery. Young was sitting in his cab waiting for Walker to return his gun. When Walker arrived to return the gun he was approached by Officer Rodwell. An argument insued. Pleading for his life, Officer Rodwell was shot in the head and chest. He was pronounced dead at 12:50am at Church Home Hospital. Officer Rodwell was 34 years old, married with three children.
A month earlier fellow officer Robert Harrison was robbed in the same area of Aisquith Street while ‘moonlighting’ as a cab driver. Although seriously injured after fighting off three robbers, Officer Harrison would fare better by walking away with his life.
Both the shooter Lewis W. Walker and his accomplice Ridgley W. Young were later convicted. As the city planned for the closure of Howard Park Elementary, it also was planning a new Elementary school for the Forest Park community. In honor of Officer Rodwell’s commitment to Baltimore’s youth , Calvin Rodwell Elementary was named in his honor.
sources: Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Afro, fallen officer websites