National News Desk

US Park Police names first Black female chief in 230-year history

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NPS

By MARLENE LENTHANG, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Pamela A. Smith has been named as the first Black woman to lead the U.S. Park Police in the agency’s 230-year history.

Smith, a 23-year veteran of the Park Police, officially takes over on Sunday.

The appointment comes as the nation has seen a racial reckoning unfold over the past year and massive protests decrying racism and police brutality against people of color.

“I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as Chief of Police,” Smith said in a statement. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”

She has already announced that within 90 days she’ll start a program where Park Police officers will have to wear body cameras, starting at the agency’s field office in San Francisco. Officers across the country will be wearing them by the end of the year, she added.

“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,” Smith said.

However, she didn’t commit to releasing camera footage to the public.

“In order to obtain any footage, a request for a recording can be made through the Freedom of Information act and will be processed in accordance with applicable laws and policies, including the Privacy Act,” Smith told ABC Washington, D.C., affiliate WJLA-TV.

U.S. Park Police officers have been involved in two high-profile incidents in recent years.

In 2017, the agency came under fire for the shooting death of Bijan Ghaisar in Virginia.

“During the time of the incident I served as a commander of the New York field office, and therefore I have not yet had the opportunity to be briefed [on the Ghaisar case], but that will be my first priority,” Smith said per WJLA.

In June, the agency once again came under scrutiny after officers, along with D.C. National Guard troops, violently cleared out protesters from Lafayette Square near the White House so Donald Trump could walk to St. John’s Church for a photo-op where he held up a Bible.

At the time, Park Police said it and other agencies used smoke canisters and pepper balls to disperse the crowd.

Smith has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, executive lieutenant to the chief of police, and was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office.

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,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the National Park Service director, said in a statement.

The Park Police — the country’s oldest federal law enforcement agency, established in 1791 and run by the NPS — includes about 560 employees who protect parks and landmarks in San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C.

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