With D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s selection of Pamela A. Smith as the next chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), there are now four women who play pivotal roles in shaping the District’s response to violent crime.
On July 17, Bowser announced Smith as acting MPD chief during a public safety meeting at Martin Luther King Memorial Library in Northwest. Joining Smith were Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Lindsey Appiah and Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto, chair of the D.C. Council Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary.
Smith, a 25-year law enforcement veteran, will now undergo a council confirmation process to become the first African-American woman chief in MPD’s nearly 162-year history. Shortly after Bowser’s announcement, Smith recognized her fellow female government officials before outlining her vision for what she describes as a “whole government approach” to tackling crime that touts effective policing, focuses on the most violent individuals and builds upon past successes.
“As a law enforcement officer and member of this community, I am… troubled by the crime that is plaguing our communities, which is why it’s important for me to be engaged in wanting to make the District of Columbia safer,” said Smith, who’s also a minister and Ward 8 resident. “I’m passionate about ensuring the public safety for the residents and visitors of D.C., and I am passionate about the people. I also want to work for a mayor who has demonstrated time and time again that public safety is her first priority and has consistently supported the department through policy and resources.”
Most recently, Smith served as MPD assistant chief of police in the Homeland Security Bureau where she oversaw the operational and administrative functions of the Special Operations Division, Joint Strategic & Tactical Analysis Command Center, and the Office of Intelligence. Before then, she served as the chief diversity, equity and inclusion at MPD, during which advised the police chief, executive leadership and senior management in matters involving department-wide accountability and supervised the offices related to equal employment opportunity and employee well-being.
Smith spent a significant portion of her law enforcement career in the U.S. Park Police where she started as a patrol officer in 1998 in the San Francisco Field Office. Throughout her tenure, Smith rose through the ranks to eventually become the federal agency’s first African-American chief in its 230-year history. Along the way, Smith received commendations for drug enforcement and explosives detection.
Appiah led the recruitment process that manifested in Smith’s selection as police chief. She replaced Ashan Benedict, who served as interim MPD chief in the aftermath of MPD Chief Robert J. Contee III’s transfer to federal law enforcement.
On Monday morning, Bowser described Smith as a person who reflects her administration’s drive to tackle crime.
“Chief Smith is a well-respected leader who can build relationships inside the agency and with all the law enforcement agencies we work with,” Bowser said. “[In response to a survey], residents said they wanted a leader who can communicate and advocare for a policy environment that promotes public safety, who’s focused on driving down crime, [and] can train the next leaders. Smith knows the landscape [and] is familiar with working at MPD. We get experience, passion and a strong commitment to making D.C. safer.”
Congratulatory statements came pouring in throughout the District government on Monday. Pinto, who was at Martin Luther King Memorial Library during the announcement, touted Smith’s diverse experience and intimate knowledge of MPD and the community. D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) expressed her confidence that Smith will increase deployment of officers to areas affected by crime, while also focusing on traffic enforcement and foot patrols.
On Monday, Black Lives Matter DC took to social media warning against the celebration of a Black woman police chief saying, “All skin folk ain’t kinfolk. There’s always an identity hook. It’s the same system, new face.” Shortly after Bowser’s announcement , D.C. Justice Lab collected feedback from people about what they would like to see. Responses included: reducing homicide rate by diverting crime reduction resources to affected areas, allowing behavioral health agencies to focus on mental health calls, stop kowtowing to activists, and seize dirtbikes.
As of Tuesday evening, MPD has reported 134 homicides for this year, a 19% increase from what had been reported at the same time last year. Violent crime as a whole increased nearly 40%, according to the data MPD compiled. In the Seventh District, which includes Ward 8 where Smith lives, MPD data shows a violent crime spike in the evening and nighttime hours.
While MPD struggles to curb violence, it’s also dealing with internal issues.
Months before Smith started her work with MPD’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) office, 10 Black women filed a federal class-action lawsuit against MPD alleging civil rights violations, misconduct, institutional racism and sexism. The lawsuit implicated MPD’s EEO for its alleged collusion with MPD leadership in discrediting those who complained about the hostile work environment.
At the time Contee left the helm of MPD, 19 officers from the Seventh District had been embroiled in investigations connected to the violation of defendants’ fourth amendment rights during arrests. Those violations, in part, led to the dismissal of charges that have drawn the ire of residents concerned about the lack of accountability not only for repeat offenders, but overzealous police officers.
Ward 8 ANC commissioner the Rev. Wendy Hamilton (8D06) said she relished the thought of having an MPD chief who lives in Ward 8 and has shown, through her decades of service in the U.S. Park Police, dedication to a single agency. Hamilton told the Informer that she anticipates speaking with Smith, hopefully in an intimate setting where the acting police chief can gather as much information as possible about conditions at hand.
“I’m sure she’s heard a lot, but I feel she should launch into some small group listening sessions that include us as advisory neighborhood commissioners,” Hamilton said. “I thought the ANC-specific meetings [earlier this year] were good. It gave us a chance to talk to the agency heads. I like to see that duplicated with MPD. We want to get things off on the right foot and in an open way.”
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