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 Harper Woods City Clerk Leslie Frank swears in Vincent Smith as the city’s new Department of Public Safety director Nov. 18.

Harper Woods City Clerk Leslie Frank swears in Vincent Smith as the city’s new Department of Public Safety director Nov. 18.

Photo provided by Vincent Smith

Harper Woods swears in new public safety director

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published December 13, 2019

 Smith stands with his parents, John and Sherrin Smith.

Smith stands with his parents, John and Sherrin Smith.

Photo provided by Vincent Smith

HARPER WOODS — The city of Harper Woods swore in its new director of public safety Nov. 18, when it welcomed Vincent Smith to the role.

Smith is a longtime member of the Harper Woods Department of Public Safety and has served many roles within the department during his tenure there.

“I graduated from Bishop Gallagher High School and started as a police officer with Harper Woods in 1997 after serving in the Army from 1987 to 1991 as a military police officer,” Smith said. “I got an associate’s degree from Macomb Community College in criminal justice, and a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Michigan (University) in public safety. I was promoted in 2002 to patrol sergeant. I cross-trained as a firefighter in 2013 and was promoted to lieutenant in 2015, and worked as a firearms instructor, active-shooter instructor and was our training coordinator and vehicle maintenance, officer.”

Smith is taking over for James Burke, who led the department from 2011 until his retirement this past April. The appointment of Smith came after a lengthy interview and selection process.

“I, as city manager, make the selection, and council confirms the appointment. I was the one who did the interviews and the initial recommendation, and council decided whether to approve it or not,” explained Harper Woods City Manager Joe Rheker. “In order to get a perspective on who the best candidate would be, I sat down with all the employees at the (Public) Safety Department to get their perspective on whether we should hire from the outside or promote a candidate from within. They all felt there were good candidates from within, and Director Smith was overwhelmingly endorsed. We conducted interviews, and his training record was great, and he had served in a supervisory role in the department for some time, so he was the best fit for the position.”

Rheker said Smith was chosen for his wealth of experience and his long familiarity with Harper Woods’ public safety needs.

“I’ve heard great feedback from among fire, patrol, dispatch and more saying this was a good choice,” he said. “We even had many department alumni show up for his swearing-in. It seems like they overwhelmingly approve the choice.”

Smith said he is excited to take up the position.

“It’s an honor to continue to serve the community and the department in this position,” he remarked. “It was very humbling to see all the support I got from both our police and fire department personnel.”

He sees fostering new ideas within the department as a priority, as well as expanding on training for department personnel.

“I want to continue to promote the public safety concept. I want to continue to promote new and proactive ideas,” Smith said. “The department is investing in a drone program and is looking into getting donations and getting training for officers. We are expanding our fire training efforts for our cross-training with our public safety officers.”

Smith said every city has challenges it has to meet, and that he thinks he has a solid grasp on what he needs to tackle.

“I think our biggest challenges are getting a more diversified department and competing with bigger departments,” he said. “We also want to ensure we are getting the community more involved. We want to do more town hall meetings and getting more citizens involved with the department.”

Rheker believes Smith has the proper attitude to ensure the city of Harper Woods weathers its challenges.

“The Public Safety Department endured some trials in its switch (from having separate police and fire departments) to a public safety department, and I think Director Smith has the experience and the will to bring the department together to improve the department overall,” Rheker said. “I think he will make everything better and everyone better.”

Smith said his biggest personal challenge will be getting used to dealing with matters from a more managerial perspective rather than a hands-on one.

“I have to get used to stepping away from the hands-on stuff and looking at the bigger picture,” Smith said. “I think since I was in that more hands-on role in the past, I understand what our police (officers) and firefighters need. I was very involved in training, so I think I will be able to bring that attitude toward continuing to find ways to ensure our officers are prepared for what they will face out in the field.”

He added that he will do his best to live up to the trust that people have placed in him.

“I’ve always been a team player, and as director, I look forward to working cooperatively with the department and our residents to continue to enhance and improve Harper Woods,” Smith said.