RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Late Saturday afternoon, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney officially introduced Gerald Smith as the city’s new police chief. Smith made the 300-mile trek from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, where he served as the deputy chief, to address the press and local city and state leaders at the City Hall chambers.
“We’re looking for this community to be deeply involved in the police department and we’re looking to be deeply involved in the community,” said Smith.
This was Smith’s first public appearance since Stoney announced that he would be appointed to the job on Friday.
“Chief Smith is ready to lead this department in these challenging times and to work collaboratively with the community on how they want this department to operate,” said Stoney. “I knew we had the Chief of Richmond that we need when he told me that his number one priority is to listen to the community because this is their police department.”
Stoney says he solicited the advice of former Richmond police chiefs and policing leaders across the country to find who he calls a ‘reform-minded leader’ who could be the change-agent the Richmond police department needs.
Smith had been with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) since January 1991. In that time, he was promoted to deputy chief of the investigative services group in April 2019. In this role, he oversaw all major felony investigative units.
Smith says the RPD’s top position has been on his radar since the position became vacant. Stoney appointed William “Jody” Blackwell as interim police chief after Mayor Levar Stoney asked for former police chief Will Smith’s resignation.
Blackwell resigned from the position, effective on Friday, and will be returning to his role as major after serving as the police chief for just 10 days.
“You don’t just choose a police chief without looking around and I am honored that Mayor Stoney chose me to be here right now,” GeraId Smith said. “I know that when I got into the process I put everything I had into getting this job and I thank the Mayor for putting his faith in me.”
Deputy Smith’s group with the CMPD was responsible for criminal intelligence and state and federal law enforcement partnerships. Smith attended 264th session of the FBI national academy in 2016 and the senior management institute for police in 2011.
Deputy Smith holds memberships in several professional law enforcement organizations including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, John C. Smith University’s Criminology Advisory Board, The National Association of Black Law Enforcement, North State Law Enforcement Officers Association and the Police Executive Research Forum.
“Policing is not an easy profession for anyone, it’s hard on people, it’s rewarding, but it’s also hard on families as well and the sacrifice that my family has made over the years that have brought us here, I just want to say thank you,” said Smith.
Before the public meeting, Smith had a brief closed-door meeting where he answered the questions and concerns of Richmond’s local leader and activists like Councilman Mike Jones, Virginia House of Delegates member Delores McQuinn, local activist Charles Willis with United Communities Against Crime, and Richmond NAACP President J.J. Minor, and others.
“We had a very good conversation, I think it was a start, they listened to me and that is exactly what I’m going to do starting in Richmond,” said Smith. “I know we have some challenges here, but the number one thing I have to do as the Mayor said, is listen and the number one thing I want to find out before we make any type of change is what’s in the ground.”
“Police departments look different across the country and in this country, we like our individuality... and that individuality doesn’t necessarily come from the people at the top it comes from our community and being deeply involved this police department,” Smith said.
“I’ve been to Richmond helping out with assessment centers for about 11-12 years and I’ve always been impressed with this police department in what it does and how it does things,” said Smith. “When you look around the country at police departments and looking around the county in cities, you cannot help, but say that Richmond has great opportunities and is a great city.”
“I not only want to hear that the community wants those relationships, but also what kind of relationships,” said Smith. “Do they want a walking beat in their neighborhood, do they want a community resource officer, do they want a monthly or quarterly meeting where they sit down with the command staff of their entire division that oversees the policing of that area? Those are the questions and that’s what I’m going to listen to.”
In terms of the unrest that has marred the past 30 days, Smith said he wanted to address those issues, but didn’t provide specifics on how he would do that, because he believes it would be “premature” to determine what Richmond needs without familiarizing himself with the city’s unique issues.
“We have to take a close look at that,“ said Smith. “I do know that I need to get up close and personal to what’s happening and then I can understand, but one thing I said earlier is that we need to understand what in the ground we need to understand what’s going on.”
Smith was also questioned about the CMPD’s use of non-lethal force including the implementation of teargas and pepper spray to disperse the demonstrators, which has garnered national attention in recent weeks. Smith said that CMPD has made national news about the use of teargas and are weapons munitions, though, he says at this time, he is not able to go into discus the investigation into that police department.
Smith says he believes that teargas can be an effective tool if used properly.
“When used properly they’re used properly, but we need to make sure that decision point on the use of those munitions is at such a high level and a ground level, so that when they’re used the explanation is clear and concise,” said Smith. “Anyone making that decision should be held responsible for the use of those munitions, but there’s a lot of steps to go through to get that.”
“That 10-day nationwide search highlighted by a month’s worth of protests against racial inequality and use of force by police including the use of tear gas,“ said Smith. “Anyone making that decision should be held responsible for the use of those munitions and anyone making that decision should be held responsible for the use of those munitions.”
During the conference, Smith also mentioned that he has no use of force allegations of excessive force.
Smith says that he will be measuring the success of his time at position Richmond Police by monitoring crime statistics, but adds that more needs to be done to decrease the amount of crime in the Richmond area.
“To all the community that couldn’t be here my message to them is that I’m here, thank you for letting me be here and I’m listening,” said Smith. “We want to make this department better than what it was and that means my office my phone line, my email is open to you so let’s have a conversation,” said Smith.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a bold leader for a challenging time and I have full faith that this is the leader that can not only move the police department to the next level, but also bring our city together as well,” said Stoney.
Smith’s first day on the job will begin on July 1 where he will act as the 20th police chief in RPD’s history. Until that time, Stoney said Blackwell will continue to serve as interim police chief.
“Whatever they want that’s what we’re going to do and we’re going to work together to make a good department great,” said Smith. “And that’s not to say that this department has deficiencies or errors, it could be as simple as complacency; we could never get too comfortable, we have to always seek improvement and I think that’s where RPD is right now.”
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