Elgin deputy chief to become Sanford, Fla. top cop

February 18, 2013 3:53:51 PM PST
The deputy police chief in Elgin will soon be the new chief in the city where Trayvon Martin was shot and killed.

Cecil Smith, 51, is tying up loose ends, getting ready for his last day as deputy chief of the Elgin Police Department, and preparing to become the top cop in Sanford, Florida.

That city made national headlines last year when Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teenager, was shot and killed by a man who claims he was acting in self-defense.

Smith is from the West Side of Chicago and has spent his whole law enforcement career in Elgin. He now heads to a smaller city with hopes to repair relations between the community and the police department.

"It's kind of bittersweet, that after 25 years of being here, preparing to leave," said Smith.

Trayvon Martin's death and the police department's decision not to arrest George Zimmerman for the crime inflamed long-standing racial tensions between the police department and the African-American community.

Smith says his experience in Elgin makes him ready to address Sanford's deep-seated issues.

"We have always been upfront seeing we have problems and working with the community to resolve the issues, and I think that's going to be a big issue with going into Sanford," said Smith.

Smith will be the third police chief in two years. His predecessor, Bill Lee, was fired in the wake of the Martin scandal. In looking for a new chief, Sanford's city manager, Norton Bonaparte, says it was crucial to find someone who could unite the city.

"We were looking for someone that would be, one, an excellent law enforcement leader, but then also someone that can engage the men and women of the Sanford Police Department in an effort to ensure the citizens of Sanford that they were carrying out their role as police officers in a non-biased way," said Bonaparte.

Elgin's police chief, Jeff Swoboda, says he's sorry to see smith go, but says it is an opportunity that will let his talents shine.

"I think that what makes Cecil really unique is his ability to connect with people. He's very personable, his people skills are off the charts," said Swoboda.

"I'm kind of an easygoing active listener and I think, in motivating people, I have a different type of spirit," said Smith.

Smith says he was well-received by people in Sanford when he went there for his interview. He says he has a long to-do list, but the first thing he wants to do when he gets down there is talk to his two predecessors to get a better idea of what to do moving forward.

Smith's first day on the job is April 1st.