US Parks Police Chief Pamela Smith retires after a year on the job

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Pamela A. Smith, who was named chief of the US Park Police in February last year, abruptly retired on Friday after 24 years with the department. No reason was given for his departure.

Smith, 54, had been a longtime commander in the department and was the first black woman to lead the agency in its 231-year history. She had previously been the first woman to lead the Park Police field office in New York, and she had served as deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division and the Field Operations Division. Park Police officers are stationed at federal parks in and around the district, New York and San Francisco.

When Smith took the job, she inherited a struggling department, with issues that had become increasingly public in recent months. It was unclear late Friday how much progress had been made in resolving those issues.

In February, the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior issued a harsh report on the state of the Park Police Dispatch Center in Southeast Washington, which he said police commanders had ignored for years. The report says automated emergency alarms are sent to a separate room from dispatchers they cannot hear, allowing a flood at Arlington National Cemetery to go unanswered, dispatchers are poorly trained and understaffed, and that mold and bird droppings are rampant in the building. .

Report says Park Police dispatch center has outdated equipment, mold and inability to monitor alarms

And on Wednesday, the Park Police Officers’ Union filed a five-page complaint with the Inspector General, saying the agency was ‘engaged in gross negligence and mismanagement at great risk to public safety. due to a lack of sworn personnel”. The Fraternal Order of Police Park Police Works Committee said manpower at the three field offices had been reduced from about 639 to 494 officers, which is below the size of the force in 1975.

The complaint says that Smith decided in February to cancel some days off “to fill the huge holes in even minimal law enforcement coverage. …Under the current staffing system, every officer is essentially on call, all the time and there is no end in sight. The complaint, signed by union president Kenneth Spencer, said the San Francisco office, which primarily protects Presidio Park, is down to 33 officers from a previous complement of 83.

Then on Thursday, the union filed a 25-page grievance with Smith, citing dispatch center issues and understaffing as issues that put officers at risk. “The Department of the Interior/National Park Service is not giving our current chief, Pamela Smith, the tools she needs.” the grievance says, “to ensure the success of the USPP and to provide quality law enforcement service to the public in San Francisco, New York and the Washington metropolitan area”.

Spencer was surprised by Friday night’s announcement. “This is news for us,” Spencer said. “It’s a shame because we hoped to accomplish things together, she being a former union leader. But sadly, that won’t happen now, so we wish him the best of luck in all his future endeavours.

Smith did not respond to an email Friday seeking comment. She sent an email to the department at 5:30 p.m. Friday announcing her departure, without giving a reason. “I look forward to seeing many of you in the weeks ahead as I cap off an amazing career,” Smith wrote.

Smith’s announcement said his resignation would be effective April 30.

Deputy Chief Christopher Stock has been named Acting Chief.

When Smith was appointed last year, she said she would implement body-worn cameras for the department, which had no cameras in its cars or on its officers. Last May, Smith announced that officers in San Francisco would begin wearing such cameras by the end of 2021. Spencer said Friday that they now wear them.

US Park Police to start wearing body cameras in San Francisco and announce they will be in New York and DC by the end of the year

The only other federal officers currently using body cameras are National Park Service rangers and Fish and Wildlife Service officers, according to testimony and information collected by the House Natural Resources Committee last fall. The Department of Justice – with over 43,000 sworn FBI agents; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the Marshals Service – does not use body-worn or on-board cameras.

Smith followed two leaders with somewhat stormy mandates. She replaced former Chief Robert D. MacLean, who was promoted in August 2019 to head the Home Office’s Office of Law Enforcement and Security, and who has maintained a strict silence on the 2017 killing of unarmed motorist Bijan Ghaisar by two park police officers in Fairfax County. . MacLean declined to release any information about the shooting or respond to the Ghaisar family’s allegations of mistreatment by his officers while attempting to see Ghaisar while he was in a coma.

At a press conference after her appointment, Smith said that “one of my first priorities as police chief is to be informed of what happened” and that she was “certainly looking forward to providing an answer”. But the Ghaisars said they had never heard of her.

Pamela Smith named chief of US Park Police

In November, the Interior Ministry notified the officers involved, Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya, that they would be fired within 30 days. Smith told officers at roll-call meetings that she was not consulted on the move, according to emails obtained by The Washington Post, and that she supported the union’s opposition to the move. A lawyer for the officers noted that firing the officers without due process violated multiple aspects of their union contract, and the officers remain in the department, on paid administrative leave. Manslaughter charges against them, filed in 2020, were dismissed by a federal judge in October, but Fairfax prosecutors are appealing.

Acting Chief Gregory Monahan served after MacLean and oversaw the actions of Park Police as they aggressively pushed protesters out of Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020, ahead of a visit to St. John’s Church by the President from the Donald Trump era for a photo shoot. Monahan testified before Congress, and an inspector general’s report later confirmed, that park police did not act on Trump’s behalf, but were instead working to extend a protective perimeter for officers. of the park.

Monahan also confirmed that Park Police had no recordings of their communications that day, and that a newly purchased radio system had not been properly configured to record transmissions. Officers in the Ghaisar case said they were driving together the night of the shooting due to problems with the radio system.

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