Smith sets tone for more unified, responsive force
by Jennifer Cohron
Dec 24, 2012 | 3600 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CORDOVA — After switching police departments this month, Nick Smith found himself in a new city with familiar circumstances.

His task as chief is similar to when he began his career in Parrish — tackle a troubling crime rate with a lack of proper equipment while simultaneously building the trust of residents.

During his first week on the job, Smith seemed undaunted by the challenge. Instead, he had harsh words for anyone considering breaking the law in Cordova’s police jurisdiction.

“Come January, if you’re a criminal, you better find some place to relocate,” Smith said.

Smith, who previously served as police chief in Parrish for six years, said he was drawn to Cordova after new mayor Drew Gilbert laid out his vision for the future of the city.

Gilbert has expressed full support for the police department.

In the past month, the new administration has approved a $1 per hour pay raise for full-time officers and spent more than $5,000 repairing the police fleet.

“We can’t grow or build a city if this department is not strong,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert and Smith both believe that progress must begin by establishing a unified image.

Just as Gilbert recently instituted a new branding campaign for the city, Smith intends to bring uniformity to his department by changing how his officers dress as well as what they drive.

Currently, Cordova does not issue its officers a uniform. They are given a biannual allowance but don’t receive the money right away to save the city the expense in the event of a turnover.

As a result, officers are left to piece together the best uniform they can from what they already own.

Soon, the city will provide a uniform to all current officers. The uniforms will be black as opposed to the more common navy blue and will bear a new patch and badge.

Officers will have separate class As for court and patrols, and ties will be required.

“I feel like if they look and feel professional, they’re going to do a better job and act like professionals,” Smith said.

Smith is also currently updating the department’s policies and procedures manual, which was written several decades ago.

Gilbert said the previous wording barely addressed the day-to-day responsibilities of officers, much less the long-term goals for the department.

No vision, coupled with uncompetitive pay, led to a high turnover rate in the police force.

“There was no buy-in for many of these officers. They were not a part of a community. They were someone who came here to work a job and were underpaid for the job they were doing,” Gilbert said.

Smith also sees signs of the attitude of former officers in the condition of the department’s vehicles, most of which are relatively new but have not been properly maintained.

Smith’s most basic goal for the fleet is a common look. Currently, no two vehicles among the eight owned by the department match in either color or striping.

Because of the lack of uniformity, residents have a difficult time distinguishing a Cordova PD vehicle from those of another department.

Smith will also be working with the new administration to replace some of the department’s sedans with SUVs, which are better suited for Cordova’s uneven terrain.

In addition to boosting the morale of his officers with better pay, uniforms and patrol cars, Smith intends to spend the next year focusing on fostering a better relationship between his department and the community.

“It’s going to take the community, the police and the mayor and council all working together to get the crime rate down in the city,” Smith said.

While interviewing for the chief position, Gilbert said he was displeased with the feedback he received from locals regarding the response time of the police department.

Smith, who has heard similar complaints in his short time in Cordova, has taken steps to address the problem by placing log sheets in local businesses. Officers will be making regular appearances on site, including opening and closing times.

The three schools in the city will receive similar logs so officers can mark when they make the random walk-throughs that will be required once the new semester begins.

Smith’s other ideas for reaching out to residents after the first of the year include establishing Cordova’s first neighborhood watch, a reserve officer program, a public safety academy and a “Good Morning” program, in which officers will call local senior citizens who are enrolled and visit them if they do not receive an answer.

Smith wants himself and his officers to be instantly recognizable in the community, especially among known criminals.

In particular, Smith is concerned about the city’s more than $1 million in outstanding warrants and the high number of thefts that have been reported in the past year.

Smith said Parrish saw an 80 percent drop in crime during his time there, and he wants to see the same results in Cordova.

“I want to focus on locking up individuals who are selling drugs or stealing. We want them to respect the law and understand that it’s not going to be tolerated,” Smith said.