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Police Sergeant Karen Smart to retire as a result of budget cuts

July 8, 2011

The cop shop won’t ever be the same.

Sergeant Karen Smart, on the Mammoth Lakes Police Department force for 25 years, said earlier this week she will retire so that the department can save a job for one of the younger officers.

“My time is done,” she said in a poignant interview early this week. “The younger guys are the future of the department and the future of the town.”

Smart’s decision was sealed as soon as the Town Council in June passed a 2011-2012 budget that called for the elimination of one position on the force. The cutting of the position would occur in December, at the end of the budget year.

Smart, 51, said she would leave the force then.

Coincidentally, the council gave Smart a 25-year service award at its Wednesday evening’s regular meeting. “This will be my fifth ‘grip-and-grin,’ she joked beforehand, “under five different mayors.”

Also attending were her husband, Jim, and many police officers, including Officer Tim Smalley, who is the only officer with more time in uniform.

After receiving her service award, Police Chief Dan Watson addressed her impending retirement. “I think it’s a statement of The cop shop won’t ever be the same.

Sergeant Karen Smart, on the Mammoth Lakes Police Department force for 25 years, said earlier this week she will retire so that the department can save a job for one of the younger officers.

“My time is done,” she said in a poignant interview early this week. “The younger guys are the future of the department and the future of the town.”

Smart’s decision was sealed as soon as the Town Council in June passed a 2011-2012 budget that called for the elimination of one position on the force. The cutting of the position would occur in December, at the end of the budget year.

Smart, 51, said she would leave the force then.

Coincidentally, the council gave Smart a 25-year service award at its Wednesday evening’s regular meeting.
“This will be my fifth ‘grip-and-grin,’ she joked beforehand, “under five different mayors.”
Also attending were her husband, Jim, and many police officers, including Officer Tim Smalley, who is the only officer with more time in uniform.
After receiving her service award, Police Chief Dan Watson addressed her impending retirement.
“I think it’s a statement of the character of Karen Smart – what kind of person she is.
“She was planning on retiring in the near future anyway, but she is going to time it to do everything she can to prevent a police officer from losing his position.

“That’s a pretty selfless thing to do.”

Smart and Smalley arrived on the force at the same time, in June 1986; he as a uniformed officer and she as a community service and public information officer.

Two years later, having gone through the academy, she too donned the dark blue uniform of the MLPD and got to work.

At first, she said, she did routine police work. Then a pound puppy mutt, a golden retriever-Brittany spaniel, entered her life.

His name was Matt, and he had a great sniffer. “The fact that I was the department’s first canine handler in 1991, I’m really proud of that,” Smart said,

“I had my job for about eight years. Matt was a narcotics detection canine. He was great at that.”

Smart, a former newspaperwoman on the Eastside and an English major at San Diego State, kept moving on and up.

She said among the accomplishments she is most proud of is her work with crimes against women.

“Back then, sex crimes, child abuse, that was something that female officers did. It was kind of this antiquated thinking that’s long been outdated. Any officer with proper training can investigate these cases and we’ve been doing that for years.”

“In 1988, a lot of those cases fell to me because the chief thought that was the proper way to go. I would say, in talking about accomplishments along that line, was in establishing a sexual assault response team, which has evolved over time over a number of years.”

“But in the early 1990s, myself, plus some folks from the District Attorney’s office and hospital staff, we were the ones that got that set up.”
There were lots more along the way: gnarly fights, drug busts and the night she talked a barricaded gunman out of a house. “We’ve all had crazy stuff,” she said.

Even Smart concedes that nothing was quite as gnarly as last season’s “depredation” of Blondie. Blondie was a problem bear (to say the least) who was guilty of so many break-ins that Lakes Basin cabin owners finally persuaded the state Fish and Game Department and the MLPD to put her down.

Smart, a member of the Wildlife Committee, fully concurred, but it came down to her to do the deed. Three rounds from her gun and it was over. “She (Blondie) was very clearly a public safety issue. I had absolutely no problem doing what I did that day.

“I had a substantive discussion in the spring prior. In April ‘09 I advocated that she needed to be depredated. That day when it all finally came to pass and it turned out to be it was sort of an ironic footnote. “I was the watch commander that day, and I knew there was going be something that it would not be popular in some segments of the public, and I didn’t want to have any of my guys to go through that. “That’s what I get paid to do, to make the decisions and take the heat, if there is any. There’s no way I was going to let one of the guys go through that.”
But perhaps the gnarliest day is in the near future. That’s the day when she will turn in her badge so others can still wear theirs.
One of them will be Officer Daniel Hansen.
“Daniel grew up here,” she said. “He graduated from high school here and he has great knowledge and great ties to the local community.
“He’s well liked in the community. He and all the other guys at the bottom who are in danger of losing their jobs are the face the community, the face of the department.
“They should be here. My time is done.”
“I strongly believe that.”

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