Following a nationwide search that yielded 28 applicants, City Administrator Carl Geffken announced Friday (Sept. 27) that Danny Baker will fill the vacancy left when former Chief Nathaniel Clark resigned March 24. Baker has served as the interim chief since April 8.
An Eastern Oklahoma native, Baker is a law enforcement veteran with 22 years of service – since September 1997. He has served with Fort Smith Police for 18 years.
“No one knows the challenges the Fort Smith Police Department faces more than Danny Baker does,” Geffken said. “Danny knows our department’s history and, more importantly, he has a vision for where the department needs to go in light of that history to ensure we best serve our community and all our residents.”
Baker and the two other finalists — Andrew Harvey of Palestine, Texas, and Alice Fulk of Little Rock — interviewed before two panels Sept. 16. Harvey, with 23 years police experience, serves as the police chief of the Palestine Police Department, a position he took August 2017. Fulk, a 27-year veteran of the Little Rock Police Department, became the city’s first female assistant police chief in 2015.
Baker has an associate degree in sociology/psychology from Carl Albert State College and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a law enforcement emphasis from Northeastern State University.
“Like the many, many officials and individuals I asked for input, the national search and interview process only confirmed that in Danny Baker we have the right person in the right job to serve our city,” Geffken said.
Baker said he was humbled to be given the opportunity to serve the department as the next chief and noted it was a huge responsibility.
“I know the culture of the department. I know where we’ve been. I know where we need to go, and so I’m excited about the opportunity to be able to lead us in that direction. It comes with a little bit of apprehension. I’m relatively young man, and this is my first opportunity to lead a department as a chief. To say that I’m a little bit daunted by the idea would be accurate,” Baker said.
He said his first priority as the new chief would be to stabilize the department and work to fill its ranks, noting the department still had several vacancies. Baker leads a department comprised of 164 uniformed officers and 54 civilian personnel.
“I will be working to not only fill the ranks but add additional position as funding becomes available. We have a lot of issues around town that need attention that we are working on, most of them are because of a lack of resources to address them. As we bring the department up, we can begin to give attention to those issues,” Baker said.
There are also some new programs Baker said he would like to see implemented. One of those is a pilot mental health stabilization unit within the department that would work with the crisis stabilization unit and as an alternative to putting people in jail. He also is looking at innovative measures to work to curtail property crimes, particularly shoplifting at retail businesses, that would also work to keep offenders out jail.
He also noted there are areas in the police department that can be improved.
“One of the things I’m seeing is perhaps our customer service could be improved on, and I’m working diligently to see that happen. We’ve got a lot of things to do, a lot of things we’re working on, a lot of projects that we’ve been working on for a long time. Now that I’m not the interim, maybe we can put a little more momentum into those projects,” Baker said.