The U.S. Park Police is one of D.C.'s smaller police forces, but has extensive jurisdiction in the city because of its extensive federal parks, monuments, memorials, and roadways.
The National Park Service announced Thursday that Pamela A. Smith has been chosen as the next chief of the U.S. Park Police, becoming the first Black woman to lead the 560-officer police force that protects public parks across the country — and has a large presence in the District.
As one of her first actions when she takes the helm of the force later this week, the 23-year veteran of the Park Police says she will start outfitting all officers with body-worn cameras over the course of the year.
"Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days," said Smith in a statement. "This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve."
National Park Service/
Incoming Chief Pamela A. Smith is a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Park Police.
National Park Service/
The issue of accountability within the Park Police became particularly acute in Nov. 2017, when two officers patrolling shot and killed motorist Bijan Ghaisar after a traffic incident and brief chase along the George Washington Parkway in Northern Virginia. Critics have said the ensuing FBI investigation has provided little clarity or transparency on what happened, and last October the two officers involved were indicted for manslaughter by a grand jury in Fairfax County. In response to a civil lawsuit, the officers have said they fired at Ghaisar in self-defense. The only video of the incident came from the dashboard-mounted camera in a Fairfax County Police officer's cruiser.
It was Ghaisar's killing that prompted D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Virginia) to introduce legislation that would require uniformed federal police officers — including the Capitol Police and Park Police — to be outfitted with body-worn cameras; that bill was re-introduced last month. (D.C. police officers have used body-worn cameras since early 2015.)
While the Metropolitan Police Department has the broadest reach across D.C., Park Police officers have jurisdiction over the city's many federal parks, monuments, memorials, and roadways. That has occasionally sparked local conflicts, especially since the Park Police doesn't answer to D.C.'s elected officials.
In 2012, Park Police officers forcefully cleared the Occupy D.C. encampment at McPherson Square because the site is federal land. In 2017, they drew criticism when they handcuffed three D.C. boys and an adult for selling water on the National Mall. And last summer, the Park Police was heavily involved in the forceful clearing of peaceful protesters around Lafayette Square ahead of then-president Donald Trump's photo op in front of a church.
But officials within NPS hinted that Smith's move to outfit officers with body-worn cameras would be part of a broader move to address how officers do their jobs.
"Chief Smith's commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country," said Shawn Benge, deputy director of the National Park Service, in a statement.
Smith's appointment to lead the 230-year-old police force follows a similar milestone in another federal agency: Last month, Yogananda Pittman became the first woman and Black leader of the U.S. Capitol Police.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.