MARYSVILLE – For 31 years, retiring Marysville Police Chief Rick Smith has given his all to his profession and community.
His wife, Chris, has been by his side.
“We talked, and I told her I’m ready to put her first now,” Smith said the day before he retired Aug. 29. “She deserves so much credit. I couldn’t have done it without her.”
She’s been with him through all of the hard times, like the shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School.
“She went to all the funerals with me,” he said. “She’s lived those experiences with me. It’s weighed on her.”
Smith said their shared love of humanity and justice and giving back, along with their faith in God, is what got them through the down times.
“She didn’t sign on for this,” he said. “When she married me I was a baseball player.”
Smith was drafted out of junior college by the Montreal Expos in 1983 and was a bullpen catcher in the Major Leagues for the California Angels in 1986-87.
Having reached one of his lifetime goals, when his son was born he decided to go for his other. “I didn’t want my family to have that transient lifestyle with me being gone most of the year,” he said.
He first worked in law enforcement in Los Angeles for six years before going to Vancouver, WA for 12 1/2 years and then to Marysville as police chief for another 12 1/2 years. Things were hard at first. The department went through a major restructure. Then the city annexed a bunch of land with 20,000 more people, but because of the recession did not hire any more officers. Crime went up initially, as it did almost everywhere because of the national drug epidemic. But by using a “proactive” approach to fight crime, “we got out in front of it,” Smith said. Instead of waiting for crime to happen, his department started programs to stop crime in its tracks.
The department focused on problem areas in “Southern Comfort,” the downtown area, and “Northern Lights,” the Smokey Point area. SODA, or Stay Out of Downtown Area, helped police push drug addicts out of town. The NITE team started up to enhance the drug-fighting effort, as so many crimes are related to that. And more recently the city has taken a humanitarian approach to fight drugs. With the nationally acclaimed Embedded Social Worker program, addicts can choose to get help from social service agencies, rather than go to jail.
Another effort in the battle against drugs came through Code Enforcement. Police were able to board up drug houses, to the delight of neighbors. The K9 unit also has been a big success in the drug battle and also in chasing down criminals.
As a result of all of these programs, crime started dropping and continues to drop, despite continued population increases in the city.
The department has also opened up to the public and become more approachable with events such as National Night Out Against Crime, Coffee with a Cop and using social media to tout its achievements, especially with the K9s. School Resource Officers were hired after violence in local schools, and they are connecting with students. Neighborhood Watch groups have increased from single digits to more than 50. As a result, when the national narrative was anti-cop a few years ago, “because of the trust we built we were able to thrive,” Smith said.
After the shooting of one of his officers and the M-P shooting, Smith said he has had to focus on the recovery of the community and his officers first.
“As a leader you have to forget about yourself,” he said.
Smith has always had the attitude, “It’s not about me.”
He got that from his parents and his faith.
“The King of Kings led me to serve others,” he said. “Service with honor,” is one of his favorite sayings.
His recent retirement party surprised many in the community, including leaders he worked with for years. But that followed his leadership style, which often was done with little fanfare. Certainly there have been hard times. The shooting of one of his officers and at M-P hit Smith hard, along with the entire community. And when a police officer’s daughter was killed he called it “one of the most difficult things I’ve ever been part of.”
Smith recently earned a doctorate in business leadership. He’d like to do some consulting and teaching. He hopes to stay in the area as both his son and daughter live here now, too. Smith isn’t bothered that he’s leaving before he gets his new jail, which is part of the new Civic Campus. “It’s time,” he said.
Smith always looked happy at City Council meetings when he introduced a new hire and his or her family.
He was especially proud when he talked about the values of his department: Accountability, Courage, Leadership, Integrity and Professionalism.
He’s confident in the team he’s built. Cmdr. Jeff Goldman will serve as interim chief.
“They get what it means to serve others,” Smith said of his department. “You work to accomplish goals together. It’s magic.”
He continued: “This agency has major talent. Challenges reveal character. They will not only move forward, but go over and above.”