US Park Police Chief Pamela Smith is retiring after a year on the job
When Smith took the job, she inherited a troubled department with issues that had become increasingly public in recent months. It was unclear as of Friday night how much progress had been made in resolving those issues.
In February, the Interior Department’s inspector general released a harsh report on the state of the Park Police Operations Center in southeast Washington that police commanders had ignored for years. The report states that automated emergency alerts are sent to a separate room from dispatchers that they cannot hear, failing to fix a flood at Arlington National Cemetery, that dispatchers are poorly trained and understaffed, and that mold and bird droppings are found in the Buildings are common.
The park police dispatch center reportedly has outdated equipment, mold and an inability to monitor alarms
And on Wednesday, the parks officers’ union filed a five-page complaint with the inspector general, saying the agency had been “engaged in gross negligence and mismanagement that poses a grave risk to the safety of the public due to understaffing of sworn personnel.” The Park Police Labor Committee of the Fraternal Order of Police said the workforce for the three field offices had fallen from about 639 officers to 494 officers, below 1975 troop levels.
The complaint said Smith decided in February to cancel certain days off “to fill the massive gaps in law enforcement’s sheer minimum coverage.” … Under the current staffing system, every officer is basically always on call, and there’s no end in sight from 83 to 33 officers.
Then on Thursday, the union filed a 25-page complaint with Smith, citing the dispatch center’s problems and understaffing as issues putting officers at risk. “The Department of Interior/National Park Service is not giving our current Chief, Pamela Smith, the tools she needs.” Provide quality law enforcement services to the Washington metro area.”
Spencer was surprised by Friday night’s announcement. “This is new to us,” Spencer said. “It’s unfortunate because we were hoping to achieve some things together as she is a former union leader. But unfortunately that won’t happen now, so we wish her all the best in her future endeavors.”
Smith did not respond to an email Friday asking for comment. She emailed the department at 5:30 p.m. Friday announcing her departure without giving a reason. “I look forward to seeing many of you over the coming weeks as I culminate an extraordinary career,” Smith wrote.
Smith’s announcement said her resignation would take effect on April 30.
Deputy chief Christopher Stock was appointed interim chief.
When Smith was appointed last year, she said she would introduce body-worn cameras for the department, which didn’t have cameras in their cars or on their officers. Last May, Smith announced that officials in San Francisco would start carrying such cameras by late 2021. Spencer said Friday they’re wearing them now.
US Park Police begin carrying body cameras in San Francisco and say they will be in NY and DC by the end of the year
The only other federal officials currently using body cameras are rangers in the National Park Service and officials in the Fish and Wildlife Service, according to testimony and information gathered by the House Natural Resources Committee last fall. The Justice Department – with more than 43,000 chartered agents in the FBI; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; and the Marshals Service – does not use body-worn or in-car cameras.
Smith succeeded two chiefs with somewhat tumultuous tenures. She replaced former boss Robert D. MacLean, who was promoted to head of the Department of Interior’s Office of Law Enforcement and Security in August 2019 and has maintained strict silence about the 2017 killing of unarmed motorist Bijan Ghaisar by two Fairfax County park cops. MacLean refused to release any information about the shooting or address the Ghaisar family’s allegations of mistreatment by his officers while they were trying to see Ghaisar in a coma.
In a press conference following her appointment, Smith said that “one of my first priorities as chief of police is to be informed of what has happened” and that she “certainly looks forward to providing a response”. But the Ghaisars said they had never heard from her.
Pamela Smith appointed Chief of the US Parks Police
In November, the Home Office told officers involved, Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya, that they would be fired within 30 days. Smith told officials in roll-call meetings that she was not consulted during the move, according to Washington Post emails, and that she supports the union’s opposition to the move. An attorney for the officers found that firing the officers without due process violated several aspects of their union contract and the officers continued to be placed on leave and paid at the agency. The 2020 manslaughter charge against her was dismissed by a federal judge in October, but Fairfax prosecutors have appealed the case.
Acting chief Gregory Monahan served after MacLean and oversaw the actions of park police when they aggressively pushed protesters out of Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020, before then-President Donald Trump visited St. John’s Church for a photo op. Monahan testified before Congress, and an inspector general’s report later confirmed that park police were not acting on Trump’s behalf, but instead were seeking to expand a protective perimeter for officers in the park.
Monahan also confirmed that park police had no records 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 backed up the night of the shooting because of problems with the radio system.