Tri-State Profiles in Black History with Chief Art Ealum

Published 02/12 2014 10:11PM

Updated 02/12 2014 10:13PM

With a staff of just five black officers and one Hispanic, Owensboro Police Chief Art Ealum says it's a daily battle to diversify, gain and maintain the trust of his community. The area's second largest city is in the midst of history, for the first time the police department is being led by a black man.

Not so much a calling but definitely a passion. Chief Art Ealum wears the patches and has tons of honors, but he didn't always dream of being in law enforcement.

"When I grew up in Evansville, I was fearful of the police, I ran as a young child, but you grow and mature and you start to realize maybe it wasn't them..they never did anything to me," Ealum says.

That stigma of fear and distrust are issues he fought as a child, telling us, "it was just like from a young age, you see them in an alleyway, and you just take off running home," and he continues to battle them as police chief."

"Now we try to reverse that  and say hey...the police officers are your friends you run to them for help, you don't run away from them" he explains.

Ealum is in his 16th month as chief replacing Glenn Skeens. He says he often runs into a common string of opinions being black and in law enforcement.

"If you have such a small pocket of African American population and you become a police officer when the reputation was such that people were fearful of the police or see the police department as oppressors. Then you join forces with what you've been taught against then you're seen kind of as a traitor."

But he's no victim, just a determined man and leader looking to reverse the branding of officers meaning trouble.

"If you want to get past the negative stigma of law enforcement and stop that opposition its not about butting heads it's about working as community partners with one another."

So Ealum and his staff regularly visit schools and host public events, because a visible and approachable force is the best kind.

"That's what I try to instill upon officers is that you treat people like you would want somebody to treat your family and if you do that and the way you practice the law and enforce the law, everything will be okay."

From a Vanderburgh County Reserve Deputy, to the head of OPD, Ealum credits his success in part to thousands who suffered before him.

"Those leaders in our community now, we have people that went through those struggles and I happen to be the benefactor because back in 1968 I wouldn't have even been considered."

History  and responsibility guide Ealum daily, as he stands on the shoulders of those who never gave up.

"I definitely know the struggle that people suffered and like I said I'm very appreciative of the paths that were paved for me by those people that I never even met but their spirits live on."

Owensboro's Department has about 110 members and Ealum is still pushing for women and minorities to join. Here's more information if you or someone you know is interested.

Next week, Tabnie introduces us to Pastor Anthony Brooks, a Civil Rights Activist and UE''s First Black Tennis Player. That's next Wednesday on Eyewitness News at 9pm.

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