CORDOVA - The city of Cordova didn't have much to offer Nick Smith in 2012.Newly-elected Mayor Drew Gilbert essentially gave Smith a pay raise and an opportunity to prove that his accomplishments at …
CORDOVA - The city of Cordova didn't have much to offer Nick Smith in 2012.
Newly-elected Mayor Drew Gilbert essentially gave Smith a pay raise and an opportunity to prove that his accomplishments at the Parrish Police Department, which he had led for six years, hadn't been a fluke.
At the time, the Cordova Police Department was housed in the old VFW. Its fleet consisted of one working vehicle, and its officers pieced together their daily uniform from clothing they already owned.
Smith, who had already been tasked with turning around one struggling department, wasn't sure that he wanted to attempt it again.
The city was just one year removed from the deadly tornadoes that had taken lives, history and tax revenue.
Bolstered by Gilbert's vision for the city's future, however, Smith decided to take a leap of faith.
"I was proud of what I had built at Parrish, but I also had the sense that I had done everything I could do there. I took this job because I believed in Drew and the vision he had," Smith said.
Gilbert kept his word to Smith. In the past six years, the council has implemented annual merit raises for officers and all other city employees, replaced the fleet twice and secured funding to build a new police station and jail.
The council received a return on its investment in the form of reduced crime rates and 16 new community programs that opened up the police department to the citizens it serves.
Under Smith's leadership, officers were proactive in keeping crime under control throughout the jurisdiction, which encompasses approximately 6,000 residents.
Since Dec. 1, 2012, the department has made 813 drug cases (261 by Smith), investigated 89 burglaries (compared to 159 in the three-year period before he was hired), handed out 3,089 traffic citations (approximately 85 percent of which were for offenses other than speeding) and made over 14,000 courtesy visits to local businesses.
While statistics are an easy measure of success, Smith's tenure at Cordova also brought intangible benefits.
In retrospect, he realizes that the city taught him to be a more compassionate police officer and how to invest oneself in the community.
In Parrish, he took pride in a reputation for being tough on criminals. His eyes were opened one night when his job was on the line because residents upset about some of the arrests were pressuring the council to fire him, and he realized that he hadn't generated enough goodwill among law-abiding citizens to counteract it.
Now Smith advises his young officers to shake five hands for every arrest they make.
"You have to find a balance between enforcing the law and community relations. I feel like the area where Cordova helped me grow the most is in finding balance," he said.
In Cordova, he has deliberately spent time proving himself to his critics — and there were many of them in his first days on the job.
One of the outreach programs he implemented in Cordova was "Coffee with the Chief." Citizens who had a question or complaint were invited to come in for a one-on-one conversation over a cup of coffee.
"I didn't feel welcome at first, and I had to earn the respect of the people. A lot of those people who were against me at first are now friends," Smith said.
Nearly two years ago, Smith realized that he had once again achieved every goal he had in his current position. He set his sights on the pinnacle of local law enforcement — the office of sheriff.
Through a primary, a runoff and a general election, it was Smith who saw a return on investment as voters in Parrish and Cordova showed out to support him. Cordova had the third highest turnout in November, with more than 1,200 residents coming to the polls.
On Jan. 14, Smith will be sworn in as the 46th sheriff of Walker County. Tony Reid, who has served as CPD's assistant chief since Oct. 2017, will succeed Smith as chief.
The walls of Smith's Cordova office are now empty. The newspaper clippings and other mementoes of past accomplishments are in boxes. It's time to move on and begin again.
As he makes the transition from chief to sheriff, Smith is once again in the position of having made promises that he knows some people think he can't keep.
He has four years to prove himself to his employees, county leaders and the voters. The only way he knows how is by getting to work.
"I want to lead that department, and I want to get out and work with my guys and make cases just like I have my entire career. I think when people see the boss doing those kinds of things, it motivates the people around them," he said.