By Jeff Harrison
Donnell Smith never imagined a career in law enforcement. Now the police sergeant is adapting to life away from it.
Smith, 51, is retiring after 26 ½ years with the Midwest City Police Department, leaving behind a legacy of positive change with the community and the police force. As one of the city’s first African American officers, he worked to build bridges between law enforcement and the minority community. With the support of the police department, Smith says his hometown has come a long way.
“I believe there has always been distrust between African Americans and police, and I think we’ve bridged that gap a lot over the years,” he said.
Smith said that progress has been made reaching out to the community and building a more diverse police force. When he was hired in 1990, Smith was one of only a few African American officers in Midwest City. For a decade he was the only African American officer in the city.
“For a long time, I felt like it was my responsibility to get more African American police officers,” Smith said. “The previous Chief Mike Jahn, Chief Brandon Clabes and Sid Porter made a commitment to increase the number of African American officers.”
The Midwest City Police Department has made progress towards that goal, increasing the number of minority police officers and civilian employees. Clabes credits Smith with helping usher that change.
“Donnell (Smith) was a main agent of culture change internally and externally,” he said. “Justice is blind, and we want make sure our police serve the community and do not look at race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Donnell helped emulate to the public that we are fair, equitable and do not discriminate.”
Smith became the first African American police officer to retire from the department, which is something he takes great pride in. Clabes commended Smith for his service and regrets seeing him leave.
“I hate to see him leave but I respect his decision. We are grateful for all the things that he’s done to open the lines of communication with the minority community and make a positive impact on the lives of young people.”
Smith was in junior high when his family moved to Midwest City. His father served 32 years in the U.S. Air Force and was transferred to Tinker Air Force Base. Smith went to Jarman Middle School and Midwest City High, graduating in 1982.
After high school, Smith considered careers in computer programming and culinary arts, but neither panned out. He later joined the Air Force Reserves and served as a security police officer. A couple of his fellow officers encouraged him to pursue a career in law enforcement. At the time, the Midwest City Police Department was recruiting African American police officers.
Smith joined the force in January of 1990, working as a patrol officer on the night shift. In 1999, he moved to the community action division, which at the time was headquartered at Heritage Park Mall. Smith worked closely with schools preaching the dangers of drugs, alcohol and gangs.
“He has always been well liked in the schools and he left a positive impact with students,” Clabes said.
In 2002, Smith returned to the patrol division, where he has remained until his retirement. He also spent time as a field training officer.
Smith’s career in law enforcement also led him to his wife Tiffany, who worked in the crime lab for 13 years. The two married in 2003 and have two children together, Kennedy, 10, and Parker, 4. Smith also has one older daughter, Morgan, 24.
“The biggest accomplishment was meeting my wife Tiffany,” Smith said.
Smith said he loved being a police officer, but admits the mental and physical rigors of the job have taken a toll on him.
“I just was getting to the point where I was not being that proactive officer that I always prided myself on being,” Smith said. “And I have a back problem and getting in and out of the police car was starting to inflame that. I felt like I was being a disservice if I couldn’t give 100 percent.”
Smith said he’s committed to improving his health.
“I have two young kids and I want to be around for them,” he said. “I’m joining a gym and want to drop some weight.”
He also plans to keep his mind sharp through courses at the career technology center, while serving as a reserve officer and security guard at Mid-Del Schools. He is also considering completing his bachelor’s degree and teaching law enforcement courses.
“I’ve had a great career, I’m leaving on my own terms and I’ve built great relationships with people in the department,” he said.