In the hot seat, DC’s acting police chief makes case for her leadership

As homicide numbers continue to rise in D.C., the city’s acting police chief is defending her record and making the case for her confirmation.

Pamela Smith, who was sworn in as acting chief in July, appeared before the D.C. Council’s public safety committee Wednesday to talk about rising crime numbers and her department’s priorities.

“I’m proud and appreciative to have served 25 years in law enforcement with a decorated career,” Smith said. “I’ve achieved numerous commendations and awards and I am humbled and honored to have the opportunity to continue this path forward.”

The D.C. Council is expected to formally consider confirming Smith in the near future, which, if successful, would make her the first Black woman ever to serve as permanent chief in the District.

At Wednesday’s hearing, dozens of residents testified, pointing to various elements of crime they would like the chief to focus on.

There have been 209 homicides in D.C. this year so far, which marks a 35% increase over the same time last year.

It is the first time since 1997 that the city reached 200 homicides before the month of October.

“Behind every one of those homicides is a real person that, as a city, we failed,” said Brooke Pinto, who chairs the public safety committee. “It’s hard to overstate how devastating these statistics are.”

Smith’s appearance in front of the D.C. Council came one day after Maurice Jackson, 16, was shot and killed near Dunbar High School in Northwest.

“We have to acknowledge that we are failing to keep kids safe, and we have to do everything humanly possible to change that,” said Council member Kenyan McDuffie. “Getting to the point where we are today with more than 200 homicides is unacceptable.”

Smith told the committee that she has a passion for law enforcement and a “strong desire to serve and help others and help guide others in the right direction.”

When Smith was nominated to be police chief, she had only been with the D.C. police force for 14 months.

In her remarks Wednesday, she highlighted her more than two decades of experience with the U.S. Park Police.

“I had the opportunity to serve in four jurisdictions — the District of Columbia, New York, Atlanta and San Francisco,” Smith said. “I worked with local crime-fighting strategies in each of those jurisdictions.”

Smith said that, over the past two months, she has worked to “identify top priorities, launch new initiatives and develop a strategic plan” to address crime.

One of Smith’s most public priorities has been cracking down on younger people who are getting into trouble.

“We have seen too many groups of youth committing strings of carjackings and robberies,” Smith said, adding that she is developing tactics that will help “interrupt these patterns and make our streets safer.”

This year, almost two-thirds of all arrests for carjackings have been suspects under 18, according to Smith.

“While the overwhelming majority of youth in the District have no involvement with crime, when some children as young as 12 are engaging in carjackings and other dangerous crimes, it is clear that the current strategies are not an effective deterrent,” she said.

Smith, who was chief of the U.S. Park Police, left the agency in April 2022 and joined the D.C. police department as chief equity officer, later becoming an assistant chief in charge of homeland security.

Nick Iannelli

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

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