“I’m definitely built for this,” Michael Hammond said of his job. Though the 5-foot-11 Modesto police officer could have been referring to his physique, he wasn’t. He meant psychologically and morally.
“I enjoy helping people,” Hammond put it simply, just days after being the first person honored by the Modesto Police Clergy Council, which is made up of dozens of church pastors and ministry leaders.
The award, presented at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration last week at Christian Love Baptist Church, commends the nearly 15-year department veteran for “excellence in community policing.”
“We got so many responses from people in the community about his service, his willingness to build relationships with people on his beat,” said Darius Crosby, clergy council member and president of Staff of Life Ministries. Residents who have encountered Hammond in a variety of circumstances have said they’re impressed with how the man comports himself, Crosby said. He noted that Hammond also is a nominee for this year’s CrystalClear community service awards sponsored by Staff of Life.
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I say what I mean and I mean what I say, and I think the community appreciates that. People know I might take them to jail today and hold them accountable for their actions but then help them tomorrow.
Officer Michael Hammond, Modesto Police Department
Hammond, 41, said it was in high school or earlier that he decided he wanted to be a police officer. As a boy, he would visit his grandmother, who worked at the San Leandro Police Department, and be impressed with “these big guys looking imposing and sharp in their uniforms. I think that planted the seed.”
In high school, he said, he made himself somewhat a champion of those who were bullied and could not defend themselves.
“There would be occasions with physical altercations,” Hammond said, “and we’d get sent to the office.”
But teachers and others usually would vouch that he was standing up for another student, Hammond said, and he wouldn’t get in trouble. “I was rarely named the primary aggressor.”
He began his law enforcement career with the Hayward Police Department and told himself two things as a rookie. The first was when dealing with people while on patrol, remember, “It could take me only a short piece of time to be in their situation. If my wife left me, if I started drinking, if I lost my job, I’d be on the other side of the fence.”
Second, while he considers himself “a pretty tough guy,” he knows there’s always a guy who’s bigger and tougher.
“In part I create those relationships (on my beat) so in case I meet that guy who’s on top of me, smashing my face in, hopefully people in the community will come to my aid,” Hammond said.
The clergy council
The Modesto Police Clergy Council, representing the greater Modesto area, was formed in August 2013 and grew from seven pastors to between 24 and 30 members now.
“We are a liaison between the Police Department and the community to form a vital and most necessary relationship,” Crosby said. “When the incident happened in Ferguson (in August 2014, when an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer in the Missouri suburb of St. Louis), because we already had a relationship here, the chief (Galen Carroll) was able to call 24 pastors together so we could debrief with our churches.” The Modesto Fire Department and Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department also were part of that meeting, Crosby said.
He has a really good character about him, a great sense of humor. People on the west side will gravitate to him, want to be around him. They want to give him information, they want to help him. Not everyone in this business has that personality.
Sgt. Patrick Kimes, Officer Michael Hammond’s supervisor
The pastor, who said he was a victim of police brutality in his youth, said Carroll and his department have played a role in his healing. The clergy council wanted to begin presenting a community-service award, perhaps annually, and not directed to just law enforcement but the community in general, Crosby said. The council decided it would be fitting to begin with the Hammond honor, and on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
When the officer received his plaque, he was joined at the front of the church by law enforcement leaders and his family: his grandmother, parents, wife, two daughters and stepson. He remarked that he conducts himself so that his children can look up to him and bear their family name with pride.
“We share in common that it was indelibly imprinted on his mind and mine what your last name means,” Crosby said of Hammond. “I would hear my father and grandfather say things like, ‘Hey, a Crosby wouldn’t do that.’ ”
On the beat
On patrol Thursday morning, Hammond pulled over when he saw a man rooting through a garbage bin for recyclables. “My experience is that people milling about with no business, going through trash, typically are involved in drugs,” Hammond said of his west Modesto beat.
“It’s not the crime of the century,” he told the man, referring to so-called Dumpster diving, which is prohibited in Modesto, “but I wanted to see what you’re all about.” The man replied that by gathering recyclables, he avoids bugging people for handouts.
He can talk to anybody. He’s respectful and he has their respect. He’s a squared-away officer.
Robert Stewart, reserve officer and retired sergeant who used to supervise Officer Michael Hammond
Hammond obtained ID from the man, who is 47 and on probation and therefore searchable. He admitted to being a meth user, and Hammond found a small plastic bag on him that appeared to have a small amount of meth residue – not enough for an arrest.
“But now I know who he is, that he’s on probation,” the officer said.
Hammond said he routinely looks for options other than taking people to jail. He’s transported them to the behavioral health center, shelters, the Stanislaus Recovery Center and other places to get help.
“Depending on the situation, I try to figure how I can best help this person,” he said.
Hammond’s supervisor, Sgt. Patrick Kimes, called the officer firm but fair.
“He’s just got a gift. ... He can tell the difference between when someone needs to go to jail for something or needs help,” Kimes said. “We can make those determinations – a serious crime is a serious crime, but there’s wiggle room when drug treatment or some other resource is a better choice, and Mike has that sense.”
Summing up his thoughts on Hammond, Kimes added: “If somebody had done something to someone in my family, I’d want Mike Hammond to be one of the guys on the case.”
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327