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New police chief promoted from the ranks

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 6/28/2019, 6 a.m.
Six police chiefs have come and gone since William C. “Will” Smith joined the Richmond Police Department as a patrolman ...
Richmond’s new police chief, William C. “Will” Smith, addresses the media Wednesday at a news conference announcing his appointment to chief from interim chief. Photo by Regina H. Boone Richmond Free Press

Six police chiefs have come and gone since William C. “Will” Smith joined the Richmond Police Department as a patrolman in 1995.

Now after rising through the ranks, the 51-year-old Richmond native will face the challenge of leading the perennially short-handed department in seeking to prevent and solve the crimes that plague the city and its residents.

Mayor Levar M. Stoney Wednesday named Chief Smith the city’s 19th police chief after watching him handle the department for the past six months as interim chief.

The decision drew cheers and applause during an afternoon news conference at the department’s Grace Street headquarters and statements of praise from two former chiefs, including his predecessor, Alfred Durham, who had encouraged Chief Smith’s appointment before he left in December.

Considered one of most significant appointments the mayor can make, the decision was announced as the department sought to chase down a suspect in a high-profile hit-and-run case from earlier in the day that left one dead and three injured in Shockoe Bottom in the aftermath of an argument at a club.

Essentially, the mayor chose stability over change in removing the interim label from Chief Smith’s title and handing him the leadership reins instead of hiring someone from outside as previous mayors and City Councils have done.

The new chief is to receive a $5,000 raise to start at $160,000. He will be formally sworn in at a ceremony at a later date.

Chief Smith indicated that he is not planning any changes in the department’s leadership that he inherited and has installed since taking over from former Chief Durham, who departed to become the National Football League’s chief of security.

A soft-spoken man known for his steadiness and responsiveness, Chief Smith is the first Richmond officer who spent his career within the department to gain the top cop post in the 52 years since Frank S. Duling was named chief in 1967. Since 1989 when Chief Duling retired, only former chiefs Ray Tarasovic and Alfred Durham have had some experience with the city department before their appointment.

Chief Smith will oversee a department with a nearly $100 million annual budget and a staff of more than 900 people, including an authorized complement of 754 officers. Like his predecessor, though, he can only deploy about 650 officers, given vacancies, disciplinary, medical and military leave and other reasons that reduce the actual size of the force.

Mayor Stoney noted that the city conducted a national search and that he sought community input before naming Chief Smith, to the critical public safety post that has largely been filled by African-Americans since Marty M. Tapscott replaced Chief Duling.

The mayor, who heard plenty support for Chief Smith before he made the pick, praised him as “thoughtful, detail-oriented, accountable, compassionate and fair” and committed to the community style of policing that has been in place since 2007 during the tenure of Chief Rodney Monroe, who was among those who interviewed the finalists for the position and who agrees with the mayor’s choice.