Richmond’s 19th police chief outlined his vision for a more compassionate and effective department on Wednesday after being officially sworn in at Virginia Union University.
Chief William C. Smith smiled widely as he took the oath of office and received a resounding ovation from well-wishers who included his wife and two daughters, Mayor Levar Stoney, two city councilwomen, dozens of retired and active police officers, and partners from other city departments as well as regional and statewide law enforcement agencies.
Stoney gave Smith the job more than a month ago. He had been acting and interim chief since mid-December, when former Chief Alfred Durham stepped down.
“The word I think is most appropriate for this ceremony is ‘investiture.’ Because that is what we are doing here today. We are formally investing a new rank on an old friend who has 23 years of public service to this city and the Richmond Police Department,” Stoney said.
“We are also making an investment in a vision for our city that I’m confident Chief Smith shares. A vision of being welcoming and inclusive, equitable and accountable, and committed and compassionate to every citizen regardless of who they are, where they live, where they come from, how much they have, how they worship or who they choose to love. ... He has the character to serve this community, not simply to make it safer, but make it a better place.”
Smith began his law enforcement career with the Richmond Police Department in 1995 and has risen through the ranks.
His father was a former Richmond police lieutenant.
Smith choked up saying that his father couldn’t be at the ceremony — he died in 2016 — “but I know he’d be happy,” Smith said.
He’s the right man for the job, Stoney said. The city searched nationwide before landing on the 51-year-old Richmond native.
“But he’s not Superman,” Stoney quipped, saying Smith can’t do it alone. “My message to you all here today and to the rest of this great city is to support this chief. He will work with you, so you work with him.”
Smith outlined his vision for the department, focusing on effectiveness and efficiency, intervention and restorative justice.
“My role as chief of police is to listen,” he said, explaining that the complicated job really boiled down to that one act. “Listen to the needs of the community, the desires of the community, and the expectations of the community, and then translate that into action. Translate that into outcomes that are desired. Translate that into our daily policy, processes and procedures.”
Smith promised to be more inclusive of retirees in department activities and to recognize and invest in active officers more. He’s the first chief to be promoted internally in more than 50 years, and Smith said he hopes to “make it two in a row” when he leaves.
But he also warned that he would “address internal failures with the same dedication and zeal as criminals who prey upon our city.”
While being critical internally, externally they must be kind, he said.
“We do the right things for the right reasons. And we have the strength of character to admit when we do things wrong,” he continued. “We are a compassionate organization. We are one that believes in the ability of people to transform their lives and we are going to be a supportive partner in that process. ... We want to provide the best solution, not necessarily the fast solution.
“In many cases, the best solution is something other than law enforcement action, but rather a compassionate action.”