University police chief is Longboat's choice as top cop
Kelli Smith leads Northern Arizona University's 29 sworn officers and was a major with UCF police.
| 9:37 a.m. September 1, 2020
It appears the Longboat Key Police Department has its new police chief.
Town Manager Tom Harmer issued a statement Monday announcing Kelli Smith has accepted a conditional offer to serve as Longboat Key’s next police chief.
“I just want everyone to know that I am super grateful for this opportunity,” Smith said in an interview. “I truly believe that public service is a privilege.
“We are in a national climate where there’s the perception that law enforcement is not worthy of trust. And what I can tell you is for nearly 30 years, I've done my very best to represent the profession.”
The background checks for sworn officers take between four and six weeks, according to the release. Harmer wrote in an email to town commissioners that Smith’s start date will be set once her background checks are completed.
Smith has 29 years of law enforcement experience and is the current police chief for Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. Her LinkedIn profile shows she’s worked at NAU since 2017.
However, Smith said most of her family is in Florida or south Georgia.
“It’s bittersweet because I have gleaned so much. I’ve learned so much. I feel like I’ve added value and I’m ready to take on the next chapter to do the same at Longboat Key,” Smith said. “So it’s bittersweet because I've made lifelong friendships here and people who I truly adore and connect with, but it’s time to come home too.”
In her current position, Smith is responsible for 29 sworn officers, 12 civilian employees and 22 student employees while managing a $4.6 million budget.
“I came to Arizona. The job opportunity was here and I knew that I had to cut my teeth as a chief somewhere if I wanted to continue to add value to organizations and law enforcement into communities,” Smith said. “And so I was able to secure this job, and I've learned so much, and now I'm ready to come home and contribute and add value in Longboat Key.”
The Longboat department employs 15 police officers and sergeants, in addition to a deputy chief and other supervisors not part of the town's collective bargaining group. A new three-year contract will begin Oct. 1 that increases officer pay an average of about 3.5% annually and also ups the town's retirement plan contributions.
“The biggest thing I want to do is get there and know the community and know the team that I'll be working with every day, the officers of Longboat Key and the supporting staff that are equally as important,” Smith said. “So really, the biggest initiative is getting there, meeting people, learning the environment and learning what's going on.”
NAU is an accredited police agency through the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies. Under Smith's leadership, the CALEA re-accredited NAU in March 2018. UCF is also the largest university in Florida and the second-largest in the country with more than 65,000 students.
Smith said she is also proud of her work in Arizona raising thousands of dollars as part of the Pink Patch Project. The campaign is designed to engage community members and raise awareness about the importance of early breast cancer detection and treatment by wearing custom pink patches on their uniforms during the month of October.
“I had a sister who passed away from breast cancer, another one who's fighting it and my mother is a survivor,” Smith said.
From October 1997-January 2017, Smith worked as a special investigations commander for the University of Central Florida Police Department. While working at UCF, Smith oversaw and supervised the division responsible for attenuating re-accreditation in March 2016 through the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation.
Smith said her understanding of the demographics of Longboat Key’s population will help her in the new role.
“I'll tell you university policing is centric to community policing. You are in an environment where oftentimes you utilize discretion between education and enforcement, or both,” Smith said. “And so the demographics may differ in that it’s young adults versus the population of Longboat Key, but the principles are the same. And you find out what's important to your community, and that's the common denominator of community policing and you apply it there.”
Smith has a bachelor’s of science degree in criminal justice and public administration, and a master’s degree in criminal justice from UCF. She is also a graduate of the Southern Police Institute Command Officers Development Course.
The town received more than 60 applications for its police chief position. Harmer wrote the town then identified which applicants had Florida command-level law enforcement experience and narrowed its list from there.
“A panel of Department Directors assisted the Town Manager in reviewing applicants with a special emphasis on looking for someone that would complement the current team,” Harmer wrote.
Harmer said several area law enforcement leaders helped him with the final interview process, including Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells, Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino, and North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison.
“A screening process was established and I met with a number of employees from within the police department to discuss the issues facing the department and to discuss the traits they would like to see in the next chief,” Harmer wrote.
Harmer also thanked Sarasota County Sheriff-Elect Kurt Hoffman for his assistance and his agency’s role in conducting the background checks.