Randy Smith named Garner’s officer of the year

jwhitfield@newsobserver.comMay 16, 2014 

— Randy Smith stood stock still, shoulders back, arms straight down by his side.

He listened as Garner Chief of Police Brandon Zuidema read from a trio of nominations calling for Smith to be named the 2014 winner of the Rob Apple Award as Garner’s police Officer of the year.

And, he looked straight ahead as Zuidema looked over his shoulder at Smith while making some personal observations about the 13-year veteran.

But when he got his turn to speak at the podium, he seemed to enjoy his moment.

“Let me tell you all,” Smith boomed in his best retired drill sergeant voice. “Thank you,” he concluded in a much milder tone.

That was it. That was all Smith had to say.

For those who know Smith, like the officers who nominated him, or the rest of the department, which voted for him, it was the kind of speech most expected.

“He’s quiet. He doesn’t speak much, but when he does, people listen,” Zuidema said. “People have a lot of respect for him.”

Smith’s path to the 2014 Rob Apple Award was cleared early on, Zuidema told the crowd. “When nominations started coming in, I got one for this officer. Then a second, for the same officer. Then I got a third one. It was for the same officer,” Zuidema said.

He recalled going into a staff meeting and telling his leadership team that he wasn’t getting much variety in the nominations. “What’s up with that,” Zuidema recalled asking. “They told me to stop asking questions, that there was a plan.”

That’s how Smith became the only nominee for the annual award, which is named after a former Garner police officer, Rob Apple, who, shortly after he left the Garner police department, was diagnosed with cancer and later died.

In comments after Monday night’s banquet, Zuidema said he thought Smith exhibited a lot of the same kind of character traits that people credited to Apple.

“He is genuinely well-liked by the other officers in our department,” Zuidema said of Smith. “He will do anything you ask of him and he doesn’t need supervision. You just know that if you ask him to do something, it will be done and done right.”

In an interview after the banquet, Smith alluded to the same thing. “I think I’m self-sufficient,” Smith said. “I can do my work without someone having to check behind me to make sure it’s done.”

Smith is the longest tenured member in the history of Garner’s police traffic unit. In that capacity, he investigates wrecks and writes traffic tickets. But that’s hardly all Smith does. He volunteers with the department’s challenge camps and he serves as a member of the agency’s color guard unit.

“I’ve just tried to be myself,” Smith said. Slated to retire sometime next year, Smith said he’s not sure what’s next. “I’m scared not to work. It’s all I’ve done since I was 12 years old.”

Other honors

Smith wasn’t the only person honored at Monday’s Respect for Law Banquet, which was hosted by the Garner Optimist Club.

Investigators Jason Jones and Preston Jones, School Resource Officer William Hinson and Sgt. Mike McIver were recognized with the department’s Lifesaving Award for their efforts to rescusitate a teacher at North Garner Middle School in March after she suffered a heart attack.

The officers involved in solving a July, 2013 murder – along with four officers from the Jacksonville Police Department who assisted in the investigation – were honored with the Meritorious Service Commendation. The Garner officers recognized were Lt. Joey Binns, Sgt. Veronica Weaver, Acting Sgt. Christina Pappas, Investigators Paul Caldwell, Preston Charles, Jason Jones and Amy Miller and Lauren Norman, a civilian staff member.

“While this is not the first homicide this team has investigated, it is, by far, one of the most intricate and difficult because of the lack of relationships between the victim and the suspects, the amount of digital evidence, and the distance that was traveled,” Zuidema said.

Monday night’s banquet was also an opportunity to recognize the contributions of civilians who have worked closely with the department. Missy Ankarstan, Karen Copeland and Kathy Taylor were saluted for their work with Special Olympics. Garner Special Olympian Kristine Hughes was also honored. Finally, Zuidema called East Garner principal Cathy Williams to the front of the room.

He credited her with building a strong relationship between the department and the school.

“She’s been there for us whenever we needed her,” Zuidema said.

Whitfield: 919-829-4823; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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