After 27 years of service to Anniston, Capt. Richard Smith, who head the Investigative Division, is retiring from the Police Department in January. Chief Layton McGrady, meanwhile, is "considering" his own retirement. When the City Council chooses McGrady’s replacement, the selection process could change from previous years.
Don Hoyt, Anniston city manager, said the previous City Council requested the Civil Service Board change the selection process for the police chief and fire chief. Currently the hiring process begins and ends in Anniston; the police chief must be one of the captains already working for the department, Hoyt said.
“The request (by the previous council) was to say I could choose from the captains in Anniston or I could choose senior officer candidates in other cities so it opens the candidate pool up,” Hoyt said.
The current council has considered this request twice in previous meetings, but has yet to act.
Hoyt said it doesn’t matter to him where the candidates come from because he will choose the best of the three he is given.
Hoyt said hiring a candidate who already works in Anniston can make a difference, especially since the capabilities of that person are already known.
“I’ve seen selections made that were catastrophes when you don’t know who you’re hiring,” Hoyt said. “You could be lucky and hire the best possible chief or the worst one. If you want to hit a happy medium, stay with the one you know the most.”
McGrady said the department will have interviews to fill the vacant role of captain before Smith officially retires Jan. 10.
“It’s a pretty big hole to fill; we’ll want to make sure we get on it quick,” McGrady said.
The Police Department has hired eight new patrol officers, who will complete their academy training in January, and three ranked officers will receive promotions after Smith’s retirement.
“We’re the fullest we’ve been in years,” McGrady said. “Usually we’re 10 or 12 short.”
Currently the Police Department has four captains, seven lieutenants, 11 sergeants and in January will have a total of 95 patrol officers, according to McGrady's secretary.
The only disadvantage the department faces is the fact that half its officers have less than four years of experience, McGrady said.
McGrady said Anniston is well known for providing excellent training to new officers. It’s that training that makes these officers a commodity among other agencies when hiring and makes it difficult for Anniston to retain seasoned officers, McGrady said.
McGrady said the Police Department can’t consider paying fewer officers more money as an incentive to stay in Anniston, at least until the number of service calls declines. Currently the department averages nearly 58,000 service calls per year.
“That’s got to come down before we can make the department smaller … it’s just not practical now,” McGrady said.
A take-charge person
Smith has had what his friend Mike Reese, an officer with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, calls a "long illustrious career." Attempts to reach Smith were unsuccessful.
Smith began his career as an Anniston patrol officer and worked his way up the rankings. In 1997, as a sergeant, he became head of the Calhoun-Cleburne County Drug and Violent Crime Task Force. In 2009, Smith was promoted to captain of investigations.
“He’s the type of person that takes charge and makes good decisions," McGrady said. “In our line of work people respect that.”
District Attorney Brian McVeigh said Smith took him under his wing when he was the assistant DA working with the Calhoun-Cleburne Drug and Violent Crime Task Force. McVeigh said Smith took him out one night in his patrol car on a drug bust so he could watch the offenders get arrested. He said it’s those personal touches that make Smith so easy to get along with.
“During the time I’ve known him he’s been open to listening, approachable and easy to deal with,” McVeigh said. “That makes it easier to have open discussions and repair problems.”
Reese said he and Smith have worked together and been friends for 20 years.
“I’ve been around a lot of great cops and Richard is right up there among the very best,” Reese said. “He’s respected by people statewide because of his experience with narcotics.”
Reese recalled a 1989 shootout in Jacksonville that both men responded to.
“It was one of those situations where we had to count on each other to make it through and we both did. That really spawned the closeness that we really have to this day,” Reese said.
Reese said Smith decided he was ready to retire, but imagines Smith will miss the job he’s done for the last 27 years.
“He’s excited about his retirement; I think he’s going to miss it more than he thinks he’s going to. He tells himself he’s ready to go,” Reese said.
Reese, McGrady and Smith already see each other regularly outside the office. The three enjoy spending time together in the great outdoors. Both Reese and McGrady spoke of Smith’s love of camping and fishing.
“Richard is a man of many talents. He loves the outdoors and I think he’ll really enjoy that part of (his retirement),” Reese said.
McGrady and Reese both used the same word to describe their friend and co-worker: leader.
“People admire him and respect him,” Reese said. “You can’t find anybody that didn’t like working with Richard.
Staff Writer Rachael Griffin: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RGriffin_Star.