(WEHT) — After winning a national award, Brad Byrd talked to EPD’s Phil Smith about that honor, his career and being an officer in 2020.
Brad Byrd: This is InDEPTH: For those who know Evansville Police Officer Phil Smith, it is good news. He’s one of 23 officers in the nation to receive the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Policing – a top honor. Tonight I talked to Officer Smith. We tried to put perspective on not only his high honor, but why he’s earned it during this most troubled year. As expected the conversation was serious but at times light hearted thanks to Phil. Phil, first I just want to ask you the obvious question, your feelings considering this high honor that you received last week?
Phil Smith: Oh, I tell you what, Brad, I’ve not been that emotional since last season of The Bachelor. *laughter* I was overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude, humility, to be honored by the Attorney General, the actual top law enforcement official in the entire country. It is beyond measure and to share that with my family and closest friends. Typically, they will send us to Washington, DC, but I couldn’t think of a better venue than Glenwood Leadership Academy to share that with those who really meant a lot to me.
Brad: And the fact that this happened in this, I often call it the lost year, a very tough year on everyone, but especially for law enforcement, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the division in our country. What are your thoughts about that Officer Smith and some of those images? I would assume that you watched as we all did had to hurt?
Phil Smith: Oh, yeah, yes, we’re at a point in our country where the narrative has become, you know, community versus law enforcement. And I really don’t believe it should be that because law enforcement is, in fact, a part of the community. We shop with the same shopping centers, we go to the same barbers, you know, some of us that can. So, you know, we’re definitely ingrained in our communities and no one dislikes a bad law enforcement officer like law enforcement officers. So we’re all on the same page on those things. I think it’s a matter of coming together as a community, as a nation, and just being open and have an open dialogue. I say it all the time. You know, family members have to have conversate tough conversations. And we in this country, we are family.
BB: having conversations at that table. And often at that table in our homes, our kids, and my goodness, once a year to be, let’s say, six or seven year old child, trying to figure all this out with COVID and everything else. We’re going to show some video of cops connecting with kids and those trips to Disney World that you made. How do you talk to our kids about what they see in these very strange times?
PS: Well, the first thing is, when I talk to any kid, I look at them like they’re my own. That’s number one. And that’s something that I learned from my parents. If your parents are one your parents have many, and you know discussing with the kids and being honest and having an open dialogue with them is equally as important. What these kids are saying about law enforcement on the news, a lot of times is negative. Well, we give them up post personal look and give them an opportunity to meet us to meet the people the person.
BB: Officers take risks every day, but the Coronavirus has really added to that danger.
PS: 2020, it’s been a strange year, Brad and I want to give kudos to the administration of the Evansville Police Department as well as community leaders for supplying our officers with gloves hand sanitizers and masks so that we can be equipped best we can to fight this terrible disease of sickness that people are dealing with. But it in for me, especially Brad was my role in the police department. As Special Projects coordinator, being a part of the community is such a big part of my job. I’m not able to interact with a lot of folks like I normally get to do. And so it’s been very challenging to keep those relationships afloat that we have, you know, we have community partners that would do coffee with the cop or go to barber shops, into shops with cops and all these things that we you know, accustomed to doing so that we can build a platform to reach out to our community and to reach out to these kids. We’re not able to do and COVID has been a big part of that. But hopefully we can, you know, crossed the finish line and get something to where we were all getting healthy again and get back to normal.
BB: Recruiting officers, law enforcement officers that has been a huge challenge. And why is that been so tough? Especially during the past few years?
PS: You know, I think it’s a it’s a lot of things. Brad, you have, first of all education in this country is so so far and advanced kids have so many opportunities, like right out of school, you know, when I was growing up, the thing was, you have to go to college. Well, now there’s a lot of trade things. I’ve seen something with the EVSC, called the ramp program, where kids are actually working at Ameriqual and getting credits for school. I mean, it’s amazing stuff out there. And there’s also what we talked about earlier, what you see on the news, you know, it’s not as appealing as it used to be. When you see those things on the news, and the recruitment aspect. We’ve kind of in the law enforcement profession, we’ve kind of, you know, stood by and let recruitment pass us by. In the past, word of mouth was the best way to get a police officer. I’m an officer because my dad was one his dad was, well, that’s not the case anymore. So now we have to learn how to get those non traditional folks in our offices that want to be police officers. I myself came from a background in education, I worked in the Evansville Vanderburgh School corporation for a number of years before becoming a police officer. So I wasn’t that traditional, hey, I’m going to be a cop always wants to be a cop person.
BB: And that just takes me to the next question, Phil, what was the what was the turn of the abrupt turn to become a police officer? Working with within the education system? Why’d you become a cop? Why do you want to do this?
PS: I work with some off duty officers who worked in a school Corporation. And what they told me from watching my interactions with young people is that, you know, hey, Phil, you might make a good cop. And you know, I never thought I would, because in my mind, being a police officer was something that I totally was not. So an officer got me to go on a ride along with them. And I realized that being a police officer was person to person interactions. That’s what it was really about. It was about making connections with people and talking to people and helping when you can and trying to do right by people.
BB: Well, once again, congratulations on a well deserved honor to think you’re one of a couple of dozen police officers in this country who received this officer. Phil Smith with EPD, Godspeed. Stay safe. And thanks for talking with us tonight.