Fort Smith Police Chief Nathaniel Clark, the city’s first African-American chief since the city was founded in 1817, was one of eight finalists for the “Chief of the Year” award that is part of the 51st Annual Convention of the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police (AACP).
The awards banquet was held Wednesday night in Rogers. A statement from the city of Fort Smith noted that Clark did not capture the top honor, but was among the top three in the final consideration for the award.
A nomination letter was written by Fort Smith Police Department Community Relations Officer, Sergeant Wendall Sampson, Jr., and signed by Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken. Clark’s efforts toward community outreach, department development, and new initiatives were among several items in the nomination letter.
“Chief Clark has accomplished a lot here in Fort Smith in less than two years,” Geffken noted in a statement. “He’s risen to become one of Arkansas law enforcement’s brightest stars — a shining example of what a municipal police chief should be. We are very proud of him, his hard work, and we have complete faith in his ability to continue lead his force on the path of progress for the City of Fort Smith.”
Clark took over the department on Jan. 9, 2017 with a charge to address hiring disparities in a way that better reflects the city’s demographics. While the department worked toward its inclusivity goal in his first year, it also witnessed a 10.6% drop in reported crimes, with 6,212 in 2017 against 6,944 the previous year. Clark credited community support and “community-first policing” to the changes.
On the diversity issue, the department increased its number of black, hispanic, and female officers. Since 2016, it has improved the number of black officers to 4% of staff against 1%. The Hispanic demo is now at 7% from 5% previously, and female officers are at 8%, up from 5% in 2016. Clark said the department used “enhanced social media” in reaching out to candidates and also visited schools, churches, and civic organizations. In 2018, the efforts led to a recruiting class that was “the most diverse ever hired at the Fort Smith Police Department,” Clark said, adding his department reached “thousands” on social networks and an additional 13,500 just by getting out into the community.
“Calling the Fort Smith community ‘Our Greatest Asset,’ Chief Clark continues to push for better relationships between the police department and the community. Chief Clark works tirelessly choosing to attend and conduct public and private forums, speaking events and business meetings to present his proactive approach to policing and to obtain feedback referencing community needs and enhancing our services delivery,” noted the nomination letter.
Department improvements made by Clark include:
• 3% Staff Pay Increases for sworn and civilian staff;
• Enhanced equipment, including tasers, combat gear, and motorcycles; and
• Additional staffing, with Clark able to convince the Fort Smith Board to lift a hiring freeze.
Clark served as the Pine Bluff police chief and was the deputy chief of police in Albany, Ga., prior to being named chief of police in Fort Smith. Clark has more than 32 years of law enforcement experience, with 12 years as a chief, assistant chief, or deputy chief.
Clark has a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He is a graduate of numerous law enforcement leadership programs, including Southern Police institute’s Chief Executive Leadership, Senior Management Institute for Police (SMIP), and the FBI’s National Academy.