Acting D.C. Police Chief Pamela A. Smith has 25 years of working and leading the U.S. Park Police and a few years ago to top-level positions in the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).
What many people are learning is that Smith is also an ordained Baptist minister and she made her homiletic skills clear to a gathering of Ward 7 and 8 faith leaders at their monthly meeting on July 29 at the Virginia Merrick Center of the St. Thomas More Catholic Church gymnasium in Ward 8 in front of a crowd of 140 people.
“Let’s stand up and give God praise,” said Smith, who surprised many with her introduction. “You all will have a pistol-packing preacher to serve as your next police chief.”
Smith, 55, assumed the helm of police chief in July with her appointment by Mayor Muriel Bowser. She faces a rising crime rate in the District with a 38% increase in violent crime overall and a 15% bump in homicides—141 as of July 28—compared to 139 in 2022, according to MPD statistics. Plus, the police force has about 3,400 officers, a historic low for almost half of a century, in a city that needs 4,000, according to District law enforcement leaders.
Smith’s Sermon to Her Colleagues
Smith, who resides in Ward 8, made it clear that she needs the help of faith leaders to tackle the city’s violent crime crisis. She said her colleagues at MPD “are true crime fighters” but they need help.
“I need the community to show up at these types of events,” Smith said of the faith leaders’ meeting. “I need you guys to show up. You say you want the police. Well, we need you.”
Smith said ministers and residents know who are committing crimes in the neighborhoods.
“You know who these folks are,” she said. “You know who has the guns.”
Smith shared her aim is to deal with violent crimes, such as carjackings, citywide. To deal with carjackings, she said additional officers have been assigned in neighborhoods where that has happened frequently. The chief pointed out that several juveniles have been arrested in recent days under the suspicion of committing the crime.
Smith urged faith leaders to keep their places of worship open after services and to take a more aggressive stance on fighting crime.
“Open the doors of the house of the Lord,” she said. “We need you back in your respectful places in the community.”
The chief said all seven of the city’s police districts will routinely conduct safety walks in their neighborhoods and pointed out that Minnesota Avenue, whom she labeled a “Wall,” will get special attention from her.
Throughout her presentation, Smith walked around the gym with a microphone, evangelizing her plea to the faith leaders. At times, she rocked back and forth and at one time, she jumped to make a point. While she preached, some ministers and people stood up to recognize her points. When she finished her presentation, she did not take questions, as was indicated on the agenda, but walked out of the gym with her entourage for the next engagement.
Reaction to Smith
The faith leaders attending the meeting were pleased with Smith’s presentation and plea. However, some noted that the work of fighting crime is taking place.
The Rev. Anthony Motley said he has been in the trenches for years trying to help wayward youth and prevent violent crime. The Rev. Delonte Gholston, senior pastor of the Peace Fellowship Church in Ward 7 and the lead organizer for PeaceWalksDC, agreed with Motley.
“For the last five years, 40 congregations have been doing the well of violence prevention,” Gholston, 43, said. “We have worked with police chiefs, and it is good to see this chief engage faith leaders. Policing alone will not help us get out of this.”
The Rev. Karen Curry serves as the co-pastor of the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church in Ward 7 in Southeast. Curry said faith leaders are doing the work of fighting crime, but another component is needed.
“We need to work better together with MPD,” she said. “MPD officers do come to our faith leaders’ meetings and that must continue. The outreach to residents from MPD should continue.”
Curry said the faith leaders have embraced the Clergy for Safe Cities initiative designed to address young people in gangs and gun violence in primarily poor and working-class neighborhoods. She stressed that coordination among clergy regarding fighting crime also needs to improve.