DC’s new acting police chief says she won’t be satisfied until crime goes down

Since Pamela Smith was sworn in as acting police chief in D.C. earlier this week, she has spent her time meeting with “just about every command official” in the police department as Smith works to become more familiar with the agency she hopes to lead on a permanent basis.

In an interview with WTOP, Smith said she had the opportunity to discuss her new role with department leaders and “talk about some of our crime plans and crime initiatives.”

“It’s given me an opportunity to really get to see the agency at a 1,000-foot level, and I’m very excited about that,” she said.

Smith, who previously served in the D.C. police department as an assistant chief, has more than 25 years of law enforcement experience. She joined the department in May 2022.

Before that, Smith spent more than 20 years with the U.S. Park Police, serving as police chief with that agency for 14 months, from February 2021 through April 2022.

She has been a resident of the D.C. region since 2011 and has lived in the city itself since the beginning of this year. Smith described herself as an “avid sports fan” who has season tickets for the Washington Mystics.

“Most of the time, I’m just about at every single game,” Smith said.

Why she wants the job

Smith said her “passion for the people” motivates her to want to take on the role of police chief.

“We have a community that’s looking for someone to come in and change the trajectory of how we police. This gives me an opportunity to really get out into the community and hear from the voices of the people when we create our initiatives and plans,” She said.

As of Thursday, homicides in the District were up 15% over the same time last year, and violent crime overall was up 36%, according to data from D.C. police.

“It bothers me, and it certainly upsets me,” Smith said. “My job as the chief of police is to make sure that we drive down crime, and I won’t be satisfied until we do that.”

Killings in the city appear likely to exceed 200 for the third year in a row, but Smith suggested she’s optimistic about the future.

“I think that we are poised to really have some impactful engagement when it comes to homicides,” Smith said. “What’s really important for me is that we have an ‘all community approach’ to what’s happening.”

She invoked the terrorism-related slogan “if you see something, say something,” in urging residents to come forward and talk with police if they hear gunshots or see or hear any information about violent crimes.

“One of the things that I would like to say to the community is to provide us with that information so that we can get some of these guns and drive down some of this violence,” Smith said. “We want to be able to have a more effective relationship with our community.”

She said a driving force behind the current crime trends is “large numbers of juveniles.”

“We are certainly going to spend a lot of time working with our D.C. government entities and our families, working with the community to ensure that we provide safe spaces for our young people,” Smith said.

“If we find that some of our parents are having some challenges with parenting some of their children, we want to point them in the right direction to ensure that they have the resources that they need.”

What comes next

Smith still needs to be confirmed by the D.C. Council in order to officially get the job of permanent police chief.

The council will have a hearing on that in September or October.

Until then, Smith said she would hold town hall meetings and “public safety walks” in all areas of the District, giving her a chance to meet with residents and members of the D.C. Council.

“I plan to be visible, and I plan to be present,” Smith said. “Folks have been calling left and right asking to meet with me, and I’m going to honor their request as much as my schedule allows to be present for our community, for our visitors, for the officers and for our businesses.”

If confirmed by the D.C. Council, Smith would become the first Black woman to hold the job of permanent police chief in the District.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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