November 8, 2023 | Update

MPD Chief Pamela Smith Confirmation Remarks



On Tuesday, I voted to confirm Pamela Smith as the new police chief. I want her and her officers to have the tools they need to do their jobs – an accredited crime lab, functioning 911 call center and a higher prosecution rate by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The District and MPD can’t prevent and respond to crime if dispatch can't successfully send first responders to the scene, the crime lab can’t process evidence, and the U.S. Attorney won’t prosecute. 

I’m encouraged by Chief Smith’s willingness to listen, her openness and her understanding of the challenges coming from outside her department. I look forward to working with her, the Mayor, and fellow councilmembers as we work to address crime in the District. 

Special thanks to Chief Smith for agreeing to speak at my town hall on Nov. 28, 6:30-8 pm at the Festival Center, 1640 Columbia Rd – a chance for Ward 1 residents to hear from her and ask questions. Online viewing will be possible. More information.

Below are my prepared remarks:

Public safety is the #1 top concern for residents right now.  With an increase in gun violence, theft and carjackings, it's a critical time for us to work together and find solutions.

The interesting thing is that for all the finger pointing and heated debate and sometimes misinformation, we are really not very far apart.

We all agree on the need for improving the tools the District already has, such as the 911 call center.

We all agree that the U.S. Attorney’s Office must do more to respond to the current crisis.

And we all agree that crime requires both policing and preventative work.

Preventative work is WORK. As leaders and policymakers, our job is to tackle the social factors that contribute to violence in the first place. This means making sure that after-school programming is fully funded and accessible to all kids. It means engaging community members to interrupt crew and gang activities before and after they begin. It means funding mental health services. It means providing housing for people who have nowhere to go in the city.

These social factors and violence are interconnected.

I remember when the Mayor nominated Pamela Smith to the role of MPD chief, I was scanning—looking for certain things.

I was looking for commitments to more community policing by officers with residents and businesses, including increased presence of specialized units like the community patrolling unit and the robbery suppression unit.

I was looking for real conversation about allocation  of MPD resources, such as recruiting officers and installing mobile cameras in hot spots. (I was pleased to have conversation with the chief about mobile cameras in crime hot spots and how we can get more of them in key spots in Ward 1.)

I was looking for collaboration and commitments between MPD and other agencies and groups similar to the Nightlife Task Force which DDOT and DPW play a huge role in traffic safety and parking enforcement. This collaboration gives officers more time to go after people who commit crime.

Since she came on board in July, I’ve spoken with Acting Chief Smith about each of these and I've seen and heard what she has to say in Council hearings, press conferences and elsewhere and I am encouraged.

I have found her to listen and be  willing to share and explain her vision. I invited her and she accepted my invitation to speak with Ward 1 residents on Nov. 28 in the evening at the Festival Center. I appreciate her openness.

My work on and approach to public safety can be organized into three areas: Prevention, Policing, and Prosecution.

Chief Smith is in charge of one of those P’s - Policing – and plays a role in the other two.

Prevention is those things I mentioned above – ways to support people who are struggling with mental health and substance use disorder, homelessness, kids and adults at-risk of falling into illegal activities, in need of guidance toward job security, safe neighborhoods, and good housing.

Policing is the chief’s job, and she faces many challenges. Even with $25,000 signing bonuses, MPD struggles to recruit more officers than leave the force every month. She also faces the challenge of managing officer workloads throughout the city. Officers working the “slow parts of the city are also paid the same as those getting ground into dust by the workload.” It’s also worth mentioning that Ms. Smith is inheriting the forensic backlog problem which has had a significant impact on MPD investigations and case closure rates.

However, what I’ve heard from her so far tells me she will be thoughtful and deliberative.

She wants officers out of their cars, walking the block and speaking with residents and businesses.

She is looking at how resources can best be allocated around the District.

And the final category of work, Prosecution, belongs to the USAO and the OAG. We have no control over the USAO, which is a federal operation, and his low rate of prosecution is frustrating, to say the least.

I want Chief Smith and her officers to have the tools they need to do their jobs, and the District has important tools that could be used better, in some cases, much better.

Without an accredited crime lab, the U.S. Attorney has declined to even take many cases brought to him. After more than two years, the lab has only recently applied for certification of two of its five units. The others will come in January, I hope.

The 911 call center continues to fail the residents of the District. There is no other way to say it.

Just the other day an ANC commissioner – not in my ward – reported that he witnessed multiple gunshots, saw and could describe the car that drove away. He called 911 four times and no one picked up. Eventually he got an automated call back and put on hold. If police were dispatched sooner, perhaps his description could have helped them find the perpetrators.

The District and MPD can’t prevent and respond to crime if dispatch can't successfully send first responders to the scene, the crime lab can’t process evidence, and the U.S. Attorney won’t prosecute.

Which is to say, I am mindful of what the chief and the Department can do and what they can’t do. And I want to make sure that we on the Council do what we can to make sure that all of government is working together and supporting you, Chief, in your work.

I believe that Chief Smith understands and appreciates these many challenges and I look forward to having her as a valuable partner and leader, along with the Mayor, fellow councilmembers, residents, advocates and others, in our shared effort to improve public safety.