The Minneapolis Star Tribune profiles Gary Smith, who moved from a Grand Island NE police officer to police chief in the college town of Northfield MN in 1999. “We felt like he had the intellectual approach to policing a city like Northfield,” said former City Administrator Scott Neal. Smith, 52, drew criticism last month when he called a press conference to address what he saw as an increasing problem with heroin abuse among the town’s youth. The news created shock waves, with many local leaders and residents questioning Smith’s assertion that 150 to 250 young people were using heroin or another dangerous narcotic.
Smith unexpectedly requested and received a leave of absence for what he has since described as “later-life health issues.” The police department doesn’t have a full-time public information officer, and the chief has traditionally served as primary contact for public and media relations. Smith has embraced the role, writing guest columns in area newspapers and launching a personal weblog at his own expense, where he has posted entries about everything from local arrests and law enforcement news to his own professional development and family. It’s unclear whether Smith will return to his job and, if he does, how much damage control he’ll have to do in the aftermath of the heroin press conference.