Meet RPD’s new Chief, David Smith

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Former Interim Chief of the Rochester Police Department, David Smith, is in his first full week as permanent chief. Mayor Malik Evans announced that Smith would be taking on the role in early July.

Smith began serving as interim chief in October 2021, when then-interim Chief Cynthia Herriot-Sullivan resigned. The last non-interim chief to oversee the department was La’Ron Singletary, who was fired by former Mayor Lovely Warren in September 2020.

A consulting firm was hired to conduct a national search for Rochester’s next new permanent police chief, and that search ended back home in Rochester with David Smith. A Webster native, Smith is the son of a mechanic who was the first in his family to go to college. He knew from an early age that he wanted to go into law enforcement.

"I went to MCC for criminal justice. I decided when I was about 14 or 15 years old that law enforcement is what I wanted to do, although I still think I have some mechanic in me because I’m still a car guy,” Smith said with a smile.

He joined the Rochester Police Department in 1992, and has held every rank within the department. He had originally planned to transfer out of the city to a suburb, but ended up staying with RPD for nearly three decades.

"Once I got in the city and got doing the work and the people in the city and the department, I just… there was no way you were going to get me to leave the RPD," said Smith.

Before dropping the “interim” part of his title, Chief Smith says he did things a little differently than most temporary leaders would.

"We’ve actually done quite a bit since I became interim that a lot of interim chiefs wouldn’t do as far as making changes and try to move the department forward,” said Smith. "For example, getting the officer wellness unit up and running, looking at recruitment because of our staffing problems is a priority."

The department is down about 80 officers. Under Smith’s leadership, RPD is taking a new approach to recruitment.

"The way folks are now, they need to be engaged on a more continuous level, they need more interaction," said Smith. He initiated a workforce development program to keep potential recruits engaged in the hiring process, and to help them prepare for the demands of the job as well as the civil service test.

"They come in for an hour, on their own time, and we have different speakers come in and talk to them, tell them what the job is like," said Smith.

Taking an in-depth look at recruitment efforts within RPD, Chief Smith shared the following:
• RPD is budgeted for a class of 50 new officers in the fall
• The goal is to hire at least 25
• There are about 1,000 people signed up to take the civil service test currently
• RPD should be able to hire between 25-50 recruits out of the 1,000 signed up
• RPD’s workforce development program has about 200 people
• 65% of people in the workforce development program are minorities
• Once hired, training takes about 1 year

Chief Smith says despite staffing challenges, RPD has taken 420 illegal guns off the streets so far in 2022, as well as a significant number of illegal ATVs and dirt bikes.

The Police Accountability Board congratulated Smith on his appointment as chief. News10NBC’s Emily Putnam asked Smith about his strategy for working with the PAB.

"If they have a complaint and they need to investigate it, we will provide them with all of the relevant material to that again within the scope of the law. It’s a very complicated process,” said Smith. "I answer to the DA on criminal matters, I answer to the mayor and city council on internal matters, and a lot of these things fall in between.”

The promotion to permanent chief is a bit of a plot twist for Smith, who had been planning on retiring in the fall.

“I told Mayor Evans when he came in that I’m your guy as long as you need me, but I’d planned on retiring in November when I had my 30 years," he said.

Instead of retiring, now he’s inheriting an understaffed department that’s facing record homicide and crime rates.

Emily Putnam: “What made you want to take on this position?”
Chief Smith: "The work that we’ve begun, I really just want to… I want to see it through and try to finish a lot of the things that I’ve started."