Bowser nominates Pamela Smith as DC’s new chief of police

Pamela A. Smith takes the oath as the Metropolitan Police Department’s acting chief. (Courtesy DC government)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has nominated former U.S. Park Police chief Pamela A. Smith to lead the city’s police force.

Smith boasts more than 25 years of experience in law enforcement across the country, much of it with the Park Police, where she started in 1998 as a patrol officer and rose through the ranks before being appointed as chief of police in February 2021.

Bowser swore in Smith as the Metropolitan Police Department’s acting chief on Monday morning. If confirmed by the D.C. Council as Robert Contee’s successor, Smith would be the second woman and the first Black woman to permanently run the agency since its founding in 1861.

“She knows what the landscape is, she is familiar with what’s working at MPD, and she’s ready to work on day one,” Bowser said during a news conference at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library on Smith’s nomination. “She also works with young people as a minister, and her path to public service is one that resonates with the community.”

Smith joined D.C. police in May 2022 as its first chief equity officer tasked with spearheading a diversity, equity and inclusion initiative, and was promoted to assistant chief of MPD’s Homeland Security Bureau a year later.

Her selection to be the department’s next leader comes amid mounting public concerns about rising violent crime rates, including homicides and armed carjackings, and during ongoing efforts to push new crime legislation past potential hurdles in the D.C. Council and Congress. Smith said she would prioritize tackling gun violence, especially among youth.

“I live in Ward 8, and I believe that every resident of the District of Columbia has a right to feel safe … and that’s the reason why it’s important for me to ensure that we do everything we can do to drive down crime,” Smith said.

“That includes targeting the deployment of our officers to areas impacted by crime, engaging in long-term investigations focused on the most violent individuals, leveraging a whole government approach, and I will take the lead in ensuring the effective use of our police officers.”

Smith, an Arkansas native who grew up in foster care, said her life experiences have driven her career in public service and in guiding youth to make a positive impact on their community.

“We have to have an all-government approach in order to deal with our youth. I think there are a lot of programs out there (including) parks and recreation programs, but I also think there has to be some accountability for the parents,” Smith said.

“I think that’s the part that we’re missing, being able to reach out and engage the parents just a little bit more to ensure we can build a good legion of leaders with our juveniles.”

Smith takes over the position from Ashan Benedict, who served as interim chief after Contee left the force in the spring to take on an assistant director position at the FBI.

D.C. Council chair Phil Mendelson told WTOP that while he didn’t know Smith well, he was “pleased” with Bowser’s decision to appoint somebody familiar to the District and its officers, and that lawmakers would gain experience working with her as acting chief ahead of a confirmation hearing expected over the coming months.

“She has over two decades of experience with law enforcement, that’s important, and she has had top-level management positions within police departments,” Mendelson said. “What I’ve learned over the years is that the chief of police has as much to do with managing relationships as working directly with strategy.”

Brooke Pinto, who chairs the council’s public safety and judiciary committee, lauded Smith’s “wide breadth of experience” gained from law enforcement agencies across the country.

“In my conversations with Acting Chief Smith, she has shared her commitment to building stronger community relationships, improving trust in and coordination with the police, and increasing officer recruitment and retention,” Pinto said in a statement. “I look forward to holding a thorough confirmation process for this historic nominee that includes robust community input.”

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital journalist and editor in June 2018. He is a reporter and photographer focusing on politics, political activism and international affairs.

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