Burlington police chief retiring after nearly 8 years with department

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BURLINGTON, N.C. — After nearly eight years, Burlington Police Chief Jeffrey Smythe is hanging up his badge and moving on.

FOX8 sat down with him about the difficult decision he made to retire from the Burlington Police Department.

He said it was the best move for him and his family.

Smythe’s last day won’t be until the end of May. He wants to make sure that the city has picked out his replacement and is ready to move on before he leaves. 

City leaders told FOX8 that Smythe will leave big shoes to fill.

But Smythe said he just set the stage for even more growth and progress for the department and the city.

It’s the little things like a hand-painted railroad spike, given to Smythe by a man he met out on a call, and a picture made by students in a local classroom that he’ll miss the most.

“He said ‘I wanted you to have this. I made it just for you, so you’d remember how you impacted my life,'” Smythe said. “I love what I do.”

He said it’s time for him to start a new, unknown adventure.

“This organization is…one of the best in the country. I’ll leave knowing they’re in good hands with everyone who’s here,” Smythe said. “The city will select someone who is top notch to come in and keep the forward movement.”

While he’s ready to move forward, he can’t help but looking back.

“Every year had a challenge, and there was a solution,” Smythe said.

There’s a large board, hung proudly in the halls of the Burlington Police Department, showing what Smythe and his officers have accomplished since 2013.

“People are saying now we need mental health services available to ride with police officers and provide better customer service to the people we encounter in the community,” he explained. “We’ve been doing that since 2016. Almost five years. We’ve already been doing that.”

It’s one of the many changes he’s made. 

He’s insistent that his officers are always prepared and that their practices are ahead of the times.

“The state requires 24 hours of advanced officer training every year. We do almost 100. Almost four times the state requirement,” Smythe said. “We’ve been doing that because this organization is willing to change and willing to grow and be cutting edge.”

Part of the motivation to succeed is driven by the connection to the community. It’s a relationship that Smythe has worked to strengthen.

“For the last three years, the police department has solved 100% of the murders committed in Burlington,” he explained. 

He attributes that statistic to community tips coming in because they trust the department.

“They have to see us as being effective. They have to see us as being ethical, and they have to see us create fundamentally fair outcomes in enforcement efforts,” Smythe said.

He told FOX8 it’s going to be hard for him to leave.

“We’ve had eight years of fantastic, safe, productive lives here in Burlington. It’s remarkable,” Smythe said.

But he feels good knowing he’ll have left after making a difference.

“As a cop, I wanted to be a good cop,” Smythe said. “But as a police chief, my function is to let my cops be the best cops.”

In the next few weeks, city leaders will reach out to members of the community to gain insight and opinions of what people want to see in the next police chief.

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