Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser went with a relative newcomer to the city police department in choosing Pamela Smith as the District's next police chief, the Washington Post reports. Smith, a former U.S. Park Police chief, has spent the past 14 months in the D.C. department as its chief equity officer, overseeing the department’s efforts to improve diversity and inclusion, and most recently as an assistant chief in charge of homeland security. Smith, an ordained Baptist minister, is taking over at a precarious time as she must ease residents’ fears over gunfire, carjackings, and homicides, including recent killings of apparently random robbery victims. Homicides in the District are up 18% and are poised to exceed 200 for the third consecutive year, threatening to put the city at a two-decade high. Another challenge facing Smith: managing a force struggling with historically low staffing.
At a news conference, Bowser said Smith’s background with the two police agencies means she knows the city and the department she would lead. “She is resilient and ready for this role,” the mayor said. Smith will take over as acting chief immediately. D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), who chairs the public safety committee, said she will hold a confirmation hearing as soon as possible. Smith will replace Robert J. Contee III, who announced his retirement in April to join the FBI. Bowser bypassed other internal prospects, including Morgan C. Kane, a 25-year veteran who is also an assistant chief and is well known in political circles. Smith noted her upbringing in a troubled home and her journey through foster care, saying her experience could be a model for young women who have faced adversity. Smith said that as a child, “I had no hopes. I had no dreams. They were far beyond my reach.” Now, she said, “I believe that all things are possible.” Bowser, citing a survey, has said residents want a police chief who advocates for public policy that gives greater deference to people affected by violent crime. At the news conference, Smith promised to deploy police to crime hot spots and focus on the most violent individuals, saying she brings “a fresh perspective, a different kind of energy, a different level of passion to what I’m going to do.” She noted Bowser’s new crime bill and the passage this month of an emergency version of the legislation that, among other provisions, makes it easier for judges to detain people charged with violent offenses before trial. She said the legislation “ensures we have a criminal justice system that is going to be effective not just for law enforcement but for the community.”