FORT SMITH – Fort Smith Police Chief Nathaniel Clark has had a long career in law enforcement. Over his decades of public safety leadership, he has developed forward-thinking, progressive ideas regarding police work. For this dedication to his community and profession, Chief Clark has been recognized by American City & County magazine as this year’s first runner-up in the 2018 Exemplary Public Servant of the Year Awards.
“I believe in public service. There is no greater profession than public service,” Clark says. “What attracted me to law enforcement was that I wanted to make a positive impact on the quality of life for all people. In my opinion, law enforcement is that profession where you can make the most positive impact on others.”
Chief Clark’s first order of business was to bridge the gap between the department and the community it served. Clark sought to achieve this goal by establishing several outreach initiatives with community policing in mind. These initiatives include, but are not limited to, Coffee with the Chief where community members interact with the police department in a non-confrontational way to get to know the officers and express concerns they might have; Ballin’ with the 5-0, a basketball game between police officers and the community; as well as Operation Inside Out, Operation Community First, Chief for the Day and an array of others.
Chief Clark also established two advisory boards – one for citizens and one for rank-and-file officers – to understand the needs on both sides of the force, and to better understand how those needs could be addressed.
“I’m a firm believer that the citizens that we serve are our most important asset,” Clark says. “Without the citizens, there would be no need for us. The citizens are doing us a favor by allowing us to serve them… I believe in enhanced communication with the community, focusing on providing a customer-friendly service delivery and providing a service that’s second to none in the nation.”
Chief Clark also understands the importance of diversity. A police force should be a mirror of the community it serves. Under Clark’s direction, the department has hired a record number of females (14) over the past 24 months. Additionally, in January 2018, Clark hired the most diverse group of new recruits in the department’s history. In August of 2018, he welcomed the first African-American female sworn officer.
Chief Clark’s leadership and philosophy regarding policing have transformed his department and the community. American City & County calls him “one of the most community-oriented law enforcement officers in the country.” The value of this relationship-building has resulted in a significant decline in reported Part 1 crimes as defined by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports program – a nine-year low in the city of Fort Smith, based on data from 2010-2018.