‘Historic moment’: After 129 years, Niagara Falls swears in its first Black Police Lieutenant

Ama Nunoo May 14, 2021
Joel Smith is now the first lieutenant in his department's 129-year-history. Photo: WIVB

The Niagara Falls Police Department gets its first Black Lieutenant after it was instituted 129 years ago. Joel Smith made history this week when he was announced as the newly appointed lieutenant by Mayor Robert Restaino and Police Superintendent John Faso.

Smith is the example of the saying “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

“The environment I grew up in, high drug volume lots of fights, assaults, high crime area. And I always wanted to do something to help take that away,” he told WIVB.

To effect that change, Smith enrolled as a school resource officer and had immense help from community policing. The relationship between law enforcement and people of color especially Blacks has not been the best, especially in recent times. To improve the faith of people in the system, Smith went out of his way to do his job because he “genuinely cares” about people.

“When I see them out in the street, they don’t see a police officer, they see Joel, they see a coach. So that apprehension that tension, it’s not there because they see me as a human being and as a person who genuinely cares for them.”    

Smith, in 2009, joined the Niagara Falls Police Department where he has risen through the ranks to become the first Black Lieutenant in the department’s 129-year history. Restaino and Faso called Smith’s promotion a “historic moment” for the department.

Smith hopes to improve the relationship between police and communities of color. “If you have an experience with me on a call for service want you to leave that experience saying he’s not bad. He treated me with respect and decency and that’s what I’m going to demand from the officers I have to oversee. Professionalism, respect, and we can bring two sides together so they don’t see us as threats and someone that just wants to shot and kill them,” he was quoted by WIVB.

His colleagues say his work ethics are impeccable. Faso calls Smith a “gentle giant”.

“He just has that demeanor where he’s somebody who’s very approachable. I think people feel comfortable around him and he also brings his work ethic to the department. He takes his job to heart.”

Although Smith admits that law enforcement is a tough job, he said he just takes it as “one call of service at a time.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: May 14, 2021


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