By Ashleigh Fields,
AFRO Assistant Editor,
Composed. Compassionate. Courageous. These are just a few of the adjectives used to describe D.C.’s new police chief, Pamela Smith. She is the second woman in this role and the first Black woman to permanently run the force since its founding in 1861. D.C. Council swore Smith in on July 17 with high hopes to drive down the District’s growing violent crime statistics.
“Pamela Smith is becoming the chief at an incredibly difficult time. The MPD (Metropolitan Police Department) faces a staffing crisis, crime has increased exponentially and the city is becoming unsafe,” said Gregg Pemberton, chairman of the D.C. Police Union. “We know that Chief Smith has the credentials and the experience to stand up to the detrimental policies that have been enacted by the City Council.”
Smith, a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, is committed to breaking barriers and has a storied history of being the first Black person to lead high-level law enforcement organizations. She was the first African American woman to lead the United States Park Police in its 230-year-old agency presiding over 605 officers with jurisdiction in every federal park.
After serving in major cities across the country including San Francisco, Atlanta and New York where she became the first woman to lead the field office as its Major, she joined the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in May 2022 as the first chief equity officer.
“She knows what the landscape is, she is familiar with what’s working at MPD and she’s ready to work on day one,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser at a news conference that was livestreamed. “She also works with young people as a minister, and her path to public service is one that resonates with the community.”
Smith hails from the state of Arkansas where she overcame a “childhood marked with turmoil and challenges,” due to her parents’ addiction to alcohol and drugs. However, Smith was self-disciplined. She joined the city’s youth employment program as a high school student, which propelled her to a collegiate education at a historically Black institution, the University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff. Smith began her career as a social worker and probation officer before joining law enforcement. Her goal has always been to uplift those coming behind her.
“I have a message for young women who are watching this today. No matter where you come from, no matter the challenges that you face or the adversity that is in your way, if you choose to serve in law enforcement or any other career, you become an integral part of any community,” Smith said at the news conference. “I stand here today as someone who– as a child– had no hopes, I had no dreams. They were far beyond my reach. But I believed far beyond those things, a possibility. And I stand in this place because of what I believe in.”
Her experiences have influenced her desire to help youth redirect their attention from crimes to opportunities available in the District. Smith wants to expand MPD’s “badges and barbers” program, an initiative where police cut hair for young men to include young women through a “beauty and brains” pillar so that youth can build a better relationship with law enforcement.
“What I want folks to know about Pamela Smith is that I will be a visible chief. I will conduct safety walks in all of our districts, PSAs. I will meet folks probably at inopportune times. Folks will see me showing up in places and spaces–not because other chiefs have not– but because I live here and it’s important to me that the members feel safe in the District,” said Smith.
She has won numerous awards for consistently being present in neighborhoods and communities including the Women in Federal law Enforcement Public Service Award, Northeast Region Equal Employment Opportunity Office Recognition of Outstanding Excellence and the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) Award for Working Together in Unity.
“Chief Smith’s commitment to public service and her dedication to ensuring the police force serves its citizens regardless of race, color, creed or location is second to none,” said Rev. Shavon Arline-Bradley, president and CEO of NCNW. “Being the first Black woman to hold this honor, we support Chief Smith and look forward to the great strides, resulting in the practice of fair and equitable justice, she will continue to make with the Metropolitan Police Department.”