Police Chief Gerald Smith resigns

20-year-veteran Richard Edwards becomes acting chief

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 10/27/2022, 6 p.m.
The troubled tenure of Police Chief Gerald M. Smith is over.
Mr. Smith

The troubled tenure of Police Chief Gerald M. Smith is over.

The embattled 53-year-old quietly resigned Tuesday after finally losing the confidence of Mayor Levar M. Stoney and his right-hand man, J.E. Lincoln Saunders, the city’s chief administrative officer.

He submitted his resignation amid increasing calls for his ouster stemming from his phony claims of thwarting a mass shooting plot on July 4 and public exposure of his retaliation against he detective whose report undermined those claims.

Chief Edwards

Chief Edwards

Acting Major Richard Edwards, a 20-year veteran and graduate of the University of Richmond where he played basketball, was promoted to acting chief, the mayor announced.

“This is the time to look forward, rebuild trust, and chart a new course for the police department and the city,” the mayor stated after approving the change that Mr. Saunders recommended.

The acting chief moved up from acting major of Area I, which includes the First Precinct of Church Hill and Fulton and Second Precinct that covers a major chunk of South Side.

He will be the fifth acting or permanent chief Mayor Stoney has named since taking office in 2017. The mayor and his CAO have the sole authority to appoint chiefs; City Council is not involved.

The mayor announced Chief Edwards would serve while a search is conducted for a replacement for Chief Smith. How much impact the acting chief will have on the short-handed department, which reportedly has more than 150 vacancies, remains to be seen.

Still, the departure of Chief Smith, who will remain on paid administrative leave through December, was greeted with relief by the Richmond Coalition of Police.

RCOP represents more than 300 members of the force and has been calling on the mayor to replace Chief Smith since last year after members issued a vote of no-confidence in him.

“We are now entering the next chapter of the Richmond Police Department,” stated Officer Brendan Leavy, president of RCOP. “We would like to thank the administration, City Council and the citizens for listening to the men and women of the Richmond Police Department. We are embrac- ing moving forward with the interim chief.”

A former deputy chief in Charlotte, N.C., where he had served 29 years, Chief Smith, 53, arrived in July 2020 amid the turmoil of protests in Richmond over police brutality that had been sparked by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.

He was hand-picked by the mayor, who had just removed two chiefs in less than three weeks.

Mayor Stoney introduced him as the person “who Richmond needs right now — a reform-minded leader with deep experience in community policing and de-escalation.”

However, he was unable to gain the allegiance of the rank-and-file officers.

Chief Smith did not help himself as he re- shuffled the department’s command staff and fired Major William “Jody” Blackwell, who was popular with officers and had briefly served as acting chief before his arrival. The former major has now embroiled the mayor and Chief Smith in a lawsuit over that abrupt dismissal.

The new chief proved unable to stem the loss of officers as violence began to surge in the city as the pandemic faded.

He also could not escape the self-imposed tarnish after he held a press conference to announce that investigators from the department had thwarted a plot by two illegal immigrants to shoot up the July 4 celebration at Dogwood Dell.

But his story about the “terrorists” who threatened Richmond quickly began to unravel and was demolished when the two men went to court and no evidence of a plot was presented against them.

The final straw appears to have been the recent news story about his retaliation against Michael Kiniry, the veteran detective who led the investigation into the alleged plot and whose report contradicted the chief’s claims.

Despite two majors signing off on the appointment, the chief blocked Detective Kiniry from becoming RPD’s representative on the FBI task force focusing on gangs and violence in the Richmond area.

In addition, RCOP disclosed fresh surveys from members showing that there had been no improvement in members’ confidence in Chief Smith, while members of City Council began issuing their own calls for his removal.

In replacing him, Mayor Stoney, who had been his staunchest defender until now, thanked Chief Smith “for his service to the City of Richmond and his leadership during the height of civil unrest and the global pandemic.

But at this point, the mayor stated that Chief Smith no longer is the right man for the job.

“The challenges faced by police departments have changed since 2020,” the mayor continued, “and we, like so many of our counterparts, are pivoting to ensure we have the infrastructure, including leadership, in place to meet the needs of the current landscape and for the future.”