Pamela Smith named first Black woman to lead Park Police

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Feb. 26 (UPI) -- The National Park Service has named Pamela A. Smith its new chief of U.S. Park Police, making her the first Black woman to lead the nation's oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Park Police, takes over the agency from Gregory T. Monahan who was named acting chief after former head Robert D. MacLean stepped down in August of 2019 to become director of the Interior Department's Office of Law Enforcement and Security.

"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."

Smith, who will assume the position on Sunday, is being handed the reigns of an agency that has come under criticism following the death of Bijan Ghaisar, 25, in November 2017 when he was shot and killed by two Park Police officers in Virginia after he was involved in a minor car accident.

No charges were brought against officers Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya until Fairfax County Attorney Steve Descano announced in October that each officer was indicted on one count of manslaughter and one count of reckless discharge of a firearm.

The officers weren't wearing body cameras but video of the shooting released in January 2018 enraged the community that has since demanded action.

Smith said one of her first acts as chief will be to establish a body-worn camera program for the agency in 90 days, stating the initiative is good for both the public and her officers.

"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.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., applauded the announcement in a statement Thursday saying it is too late to save Ghaisar but it may prevent others from suffering the same fate.

"While nothing will bring Bijan back, I am glad to see the new leadership of the Park Police taking steps that could help avert more needless tragedies," Warner said.

Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., chair of the national resources committee, said Smith's announcement of body-worn cameras "didn't come in a vacuum," pointing to several hearings held into Ghaisar's death as well as into the role body-worn cameras play in holding authorities to account into pushing it forward.

"This is what serious oversight can accomplish," he said in a statement. "I'm looking forward to working with the Biden administration to further reform law enforcement culture and policies at the U.S. Park Police and other law enforcement units of the Department of the Interior."

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