RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gerald Smith, Richmond’s police chief since the summer of 2020, resigned Tuesday and will be on administrative leave until the end of the year, the city announced.
A reason for Smith’s resignation was not provided in the brief news release announcing his departure. “We would like to thank Chief Smith for his service in law enforcement and wish him well in all his future endeavors,” the release said.
Mayor Levar Stoney struck a similar tone in his statement on Smith’s resignation Tuesday, thanking him for his service “during the height of civil unrest and the global pandemic.”
“As we look around the nation, the challenges faced by police departments have changed since 2020 and we, like so many of our counterparts, are pivoting to ensure we have the infrastructure, including leadership, in place to meet the needs of the current landscape and for the future,” Stoney said in his statement.
Chief Smith faced criticism from officers and Richmond leaders over crime in the city, including several fatal shootings, and over the handling of an investigation into a July 4 mass shooting plot that police accused two men of being behind.
In a news conference, Smith said the department foiled plans for a mass shooting targeting the city’s July 4 event at Dogwood Dell. Conflicting information regarding the alleged plot, which garnered national attention, led to questions and criticism over the police investigation.
After saying he was shutting down talk about the planned shooting, Smith acknowledged that the department’s communication over the response could have been better in an interview with 8News. But he doubled down on Dogwood Dell being the target, saying he determined it was the location from “experienced knowledge.”
Smith, who assumed the role of police chief on July 1, 2020, was appointed by Stoney following the ouster of former chief William Smith and after William “Jody” Blackwell served as interim chief for just 11 days.
The appointment of Smith came in the wake of clashes between protesters and officers in Richmond during civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Stoney was criticized for his decision to have Blackwell serve as chief amid racial justice protests after details of a fatal shooting in which Blackwell shot a man while working as a police officer in the city resurfaced.
In a court filing, Stoney admitted he expressed concern over the “controversy and public outcry” over the fatal shooting and claims Blackwell and him agreed he would step down as interim chief.
The city sped up the hiring process and announced Smith’s appointment the same day, which came before Richmond advertised the open position in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“In an ideal world, the mayor would have liked to have extended and expanded the hiring process over a longer period of time,” Stoney spokesperson Jim Nolan told 8News in 2020, “but given the ongoing unrest in the city, the Mayor thought it was important to bring in a proven leader, sooner rather than later, who could guide the department through the reforms we know are needed today and work alongside the community in reimagining public safety into the future.”
Stoney, who vowed the city would conduct a national search for a new police chief while Blackwell served in the interim role, said he handpicked Gerald Smith after receiving recommendations from former Richmond police chiefs and others.
On Tuesday, the city said it would conduct a nationwide search for Smith’s replacement.
Acting Major Richard Edwards has been temporarily appointed acting police chief, a recommendation from Richmond’s Chief Administrative Officer Lincoln Saunders.
“Acting Chief Edwards is known throughout the community and is a decorated officer with more than 20 years of service in the City of Richmond,” Stoney said in a statement.
Edwards, a University of Richmond graduate and former basketball player, joined the Richmond Police Department in 1999.
“This is the time to look forward, rebuild trust, and chart a new course for the police department and the City,” Stoney said in his statement.