Jul 18, 2023 - News

Former U.S. Park Police chief Pamela Smith named D.C.'s new top cop

Pamela Smith speaks at a podium in her U.S. Park Police uniform.

Then-U.S. Park Police chief Pamela Smith at a press conference on Feb. 28, 2022. Photo: Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images

U.S. Park Police veteran Pamela Smith has been nominated to be D.C.'s next police chief.

Why it matters: The District is confronting how to battle a rise in homicides and violent crime while officers try to improve their relations with communities often distrustful of law enforcement.

By the numbers: D.C. has reported 133 homicides so far this year, per police stats. That's an 18% increase over the same time last year when D.C. registered its second year in a row with more than 200 murders.

  • Overall violent crime is up 36%.

Driving the news: Mayor Bowser named Smith on Monday to be the permanent successor to Robert Contee, who retired from the force in June.

  • Smith takes charge immediately as acting police chief while she awaits D.C. Council confirmation.

What they're saying: "The community wants the police to be the police and do so in a constitutionally safe and respectful manner," Smith, an ordained minister, said at a press conference Monday.

Backstory: Smith began in the U.S. Park Police as a patrol officer in San Francisco in 1998. She also worked in field offices in New York, Atlanta, and D.C.

  • Smith took over in 2021 as the first Black woman to lead the U.S. Park Police. Among her first actions, she pledged to require officers to wear body cameras, DCist reported at the time.
  • This came after Bijan Ghaisar, 25, was shot to death in 2017 by two Park Police officers who had been chasing his vehicle on the George Washington Parkway.

Between the lines: When Smith retired from the Park Police last year, it came months after an Interior Department report harshly criticized the agency's dispatch center as ineffective, the Washington Post reports.

  • Later in the year, the Park Police officers' union filed a complaint that understaffing was putting the public and officers at risk.

What's ahead: D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto said a confirmation hearing will be held as soon as possible, per the Post.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Bijan Ghaisar was in an SUV (not on a motorcycle) when he was chased and shot by Park Police officers.


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