“Meet the Chief” adds a personal touch to the police department

Published 12:05 am Thursday, August 31, 2023

SALISBURY — When Salisbury Police Chief Patrick “P.J.” Smith was officially sworn in on July 18, he wanted to make sure he was careful with his new position and that he took deliberate action to see his long term goals become a reality. “Listen, evaluate, analyze” was his game plan in the beginning of his tenure as chief and Smith is still committed to that mindset.

On Tuesday at the City Park Recreation Center, the city invited residents to a “Meet the Chief” pop-in gathering where people could casually stop by to personally meet Chief Smith and start a dialogue with him about issues that matter to them. When figuring out who to hire as the new chief, City Manager Jim Greene made sure that residents were involved in the decision making process. Now that he’s chief, Salisbury is keen on having that participation contribute to what direction the city takes.

“It was really important for us to create an opportunity for all of our community members to come out, meet Chief Smith, shake his hand, and ask him any questions,” Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director Anne Little said.

Little specified that the meet and greet was less formal and structured by design. There were no speakers or agenda, just people enjoying delicious food and speaking out on important topics.

Joyce Smyre from West Horah Street has been coming to city council meetings for over 20 years and has been very active in Salisbury. She wanted to meet the new chief for herself and is glad that she did. “I’m proud to know that we do have another chief and he is a really nice, young man,” Smyre said.

They discussed what is going on with the community and what is being done to remedy any problems. Smyre sympathizes with the police department and the complex situations they have to deal with on a regular basis. She tries to remind people what putting on that badge means for the person wearing it.

“I know they do a good job because it’s a hard job. Most people forget when we have police, they have families, too. They are only human and they can’t do but so much without our help,” Smyre said.

Since the facility already acts as a teen center, many kids and teenagers were there and Little thought having them meet Chief Smith would be beneficial for them and the department. Being able to form those lasting relationships leads to a better understanding of what a person is going through.

“I wanted them to come meet the chief and I said, ‘Have you ever met a police chief before?’ He said, ‘I don’t know police.’ How cool is it? How many people, even older, can say, ‘I know the police chief.’ ‘I met the police chief.’ I think that’s an important part of the engagement,” Little said.

Chief Smith appreciated having that collaboration with younger people. Getting the chance to meet with them when they have fewer misconceptions about the police is a nice way to get them on the same page to help Salisbury.

“A couple of them came back several times, started asking me questions about the police. Those were good conversations because anytime you can engage with the youth, it’s good and it’s a positive interaction,” Smith said.

Chief Smith heard from residents on what they can do to help about violent crimes, steered them towards organizations that they would be interested in, and felt reassured by how they feel with him taking over for Chief Stokes.

“It’s humbling to how much community support that I’ve gotten and I’m thankful for,” Smith said.

The exchanges and moments shared are what Chief Smith cherishes the most with these kind of events. When people come in contact with police officers, there’s a possibility that it is due to a negative incident like a traffic stop or even a serious crime. When the circumstances are actually pleasant and constructive, genuine resolutions for what is ailing Salisbury can be created. Smith was eager to talk to anyone who wanted to bring something to his attention and aspires to build off of their enthusiasm.

“I get to hear their voice. What I see and what they see are two different things. What I hear from officers and what I hear from the actual community members are different things sometimes. It’s a lot more informative to hear it firsthand from them. It’s easier to address an issue directly when you’re talking with the person that’s affecting directly, rather than hear it from a third party. I hope to do more of these,” Smith said.