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PC Profile: Ed Doyle-Gillespie OPC '88

Law enforcement is grueling work, and police officers handle the physical and emotional stresses in different ways. Edward Doyle-Gillespie OPC ’88 writes poetry.

PC alumn Ed Doyle Gillespie smiles with his bookcase behind him.

An 18-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department, now with the rank of detective, Doyle-Gillespie has published four collections of poetry. His experiences on the street inform his creative work but don’t define it. Doyle- Gillespie said he draws material from whatever he sees around him, extracting vivid detail from the situations and communities he has encountered. Consider, for example, his poem, “First On the Scene,” which he says illustrates the strange intimacy between officer and stranger:

It is late in the shift,
and I am breathing you in.
It has been six months
since anyone has seen you,
smelled your ox tails and rice,
heard the muttered oaths
as you pace the third-floor hall
in rubber flip flops.

He is a full-time police officer and a part-time poet, Doyle-Gillespie said, but he likes both and believes they complement each other. He keeps a journal and makes time to write at night and on weekends. “The poetry comes in fits and starts,” he said.

Doyle-Gillespie has always been hard to pigeonhole, ever since his days at Penn Charter, where he played lacrosse, participated in Model UN, and sang in Charter Singers. Faculty influences were equally diverse, naturally including English teachers such as Henry Bender, Joe Perrott and Christopher Teare, but also history teacher John Burkhart OPC ’72 and music teacher Jack Pierpont.

Had things worked out differently, Doyle-Gillespie might have become a military officer. He majored in history at George Washington University and joined ROTC, but an injury forced him to rethink his career plans. After graduating, Doyle-Gillespie taught high school English, first in Toledo, Ohio and then in Baltimore City Public Schools.

Doyle-Gillespie might have followed that path but for another turn of events. He enrolled in a master of liberal arts program at Johns Hopkins University, starting classes on the fateful day of Sept. 11, 2001. The 9/11 attacks affected him deeply. “Okay, I'm going to get that master's degree, I’m going to earn a black belt, and I'm going to go protect people from bad guys,” he recalled thinking. Doyle-Gillespie did all three and joined the Baltimore police force as a beat cop in 2005.

He was initially assigned to a special task force for the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor, a high crime area that runs through the heart of the city. Doyle-Gillespie says he saw a lot of violence and was once shot at on patrol. Though he had started writing poetry in college, attracted to the “economy of language,” he began to do so more seriously while working on the police force, finding it a way to relax, make sense of his experiences, and cultivate the creative side of his nature. His first collection of poetry, Masala Tea and Oranges, was published in 2010, followed by three others in the next decade.

For the last several years, Doyle-Gillespie has had a new, and in some ways even more challenging, assignment: teaching at the Baltimore City Police Academy. He instructs recruits in subjects including ethics, procedural justice, implicit bias, history, humanities and counterterrorism. To help broaden their perspective, Doyle-Gillespie has the fledgling police officers read philosophy and literature, including authors such as John Steinbeck, James Baldwin, Immanuel Kant, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Plato. The works have a common theme of examining how people have regarded — and resisted — authority. It’s a subject that would seem very relevant to police work, though many recruits, Doyle-Gillespie said, “ have gaps in their knowledge.” A better-rounded police officer, he believes, is a more effective one, as well. 

– Mark Bernstein OPC '79