Sunday, November 9, 2008

Farewell Lt. Smith... and Thank You!

Tonight, Lt. Michael Smith will ride into the sunset. After 27 years of service, he'll be retiring with his wife, dog, 3 cats, parakeet, and newly-acquired beta fish to Florida. Lt. Smith demonstrated each and every day a passion for his job that went beyond belief. He viewed his mission as not just to be a good police officer, but to do whatever needed to be done to make the (his) neighborhood safer. For the last several years, Lt. Smith served PSA 307 - the Logan Circle neighborhood, but he lived in Shaw, his preceding assignment, and he was a 24/7 officer, radio around his neck, laptop in hand. And he wasn't one to let anyone or anything stand in his way, which is why he had troublemakers file complaints against him and occasionally got into hot water with higher ups. The community always had his back, just as he had ours.

Here's an except from a 1996 Washington CityPaper story entitled, "Bad Boy":
Adams Morgan residents first noticed something funny about Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Lt. Michael Smith when he started passing out cards bearing his beeper number. Then, burgled neighbors—long accustomed to waiting out five or six loads of laundry before seeing a cop—found Smith responding before they could add bleach. Things really got out of hand when Smith, armed with a nail gun, personally boarded up several Columbia Heights crack houses. He also helped residents rid their streets of burned-out cars and implored judges to send juveniles offenders to community-service programs. Now, Adams Morgan community leaders say MPD officials, who looked like slackers next to Smith, have conspired to make him pay for his good deeds with a recent transfer to the graveyard shift in Shaw. While the department insists Smith's transfer was routine, 3rd District Lt. Michael Gallahan says Smith was out of line. "[He] went out there with an agenda to develop...a fan club," explains Gallahan. "Mike would respond to every call he got. But community policing is about making residents aware of the resources out there to help themselves. A lot of those people [in Adams Morgan] need to get off their duffs and take care of their own business."
And so he arrived in Shaw and he kept pushing. From another article, entitled “The Beat Goes On: With all the drugs, prostitutes, and public urination in Shaw, it's a wonder anyone moves in. That's why Lt. Mike Smith won't move out”:

If you break the law frequently in Shaw, Smith probably shares a long saga with you…. He knows your name, alias, street address, family, personal history, and addictions (if applicable). Residents around the District are still demanding the intense "community policing" that Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Charles H. Ramsey promised when he accepted his position over five years ago…. But the department has undoubtedly given it to Shaw residents, whether they wanted it or not, in the form of a live-in lieutenant, Mike Smith. He's taken community policing to the extreme, and, in the process, has inspired glowing praise, a bit of protest, and two transfers…. "I live at 1203 7th St.," he tells the dozen or so ex-convicts. "I tell everybody that: thugs, criminals, and citizens. Everyone knows I live there. The 7 and O Crew members knew I lived there. They're gone; I'm still there. Somebody shot out my apartment window a few days ago. It didn't wake me up. It didn't even wake up my dogs. Some officers called and told me what happened, and I was pissed they woke me up for it."

I remember years ago how when I had the opportunity to present Lt. Smith with the Logan Circle Community Association's service award. I joked how they ought to make Lt. Smith Super Hero action figures, because they'd sell out.

Last night, there was a farewell party for Lt. Smith, bringing out about 150 people. This retirement party, however, was filled with neighborhood residents, not just fellow officers. I learned a few things. Officers repeatedly how Michael Smith was the rare officer who upon becoming a lieutenant continued to use his handcuffs and go to court. Lt. Smith apparently earned the nickname "big bird" early in his career initially for a bright yellow jacket he received as a gift from his father, it got locked in when he tackled a perp from a rooftop and the interview report with the fleeing suspect read, "this big bird..." I also learned that knowing perps fled over a certain fence in the neighborhood, he greased it up.

If you've been at any sort of community function with Lt. Smith, and he attended them all, regardless of whether he is on or off duty, you just expect him to run out at some point, handle a situation or make an arrest, and then return. He led by example and was one of the first riding his bike on patrol.

Lt. Smith, thank you for all your work on behalf of our neighborhoods, for making them safer, for being such an integral part of the community, and, for your continuing friendship. Enjoy scuba diving in Florida!


Deborah Ziska said...

We will always remember your accessibility 24/7 and your passion to serve the community. I will never forget your bike rides for charity and how you and your wife stayed behind to help me clean after a neighborhood dinner. Enjoy your retirement; you've earned it!

Ruth W said...

Lt. Smith deserves some kind of living legacy, so his service won't be forgotten. Perhaps MVSNA or some other group could name an award after him to be awarded for above-the-call-of-duty community policing work. Even better if there could be some money to go with it.