After 23 years on the job, Assistant Chief Johnny Smith, 52, of Little Rock, has become a familiar presence on campus, earning the moniker of “Officer Friendly” for his upbeat, polite attitude while protecting the university community.
“I love the environment, the community, and the students, faculty, and staff at UA Little Rock,” he said. “I have students that have come back after 20 years and ask if I am still here. The students sometimes call me Officer Friendly because that is how we treat everybody. The place has become home.”
Smith has become the first police officer from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to complete the prestigious FBI National Academy, a professional course of study for U.S. and international law enforcement managers nominated by their agency heads because of demonstrated leadership qualities. President Donald Trump gave the commencement speech at his Dec. 15, 2017, graduation ceremony at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia.
The 11-week program—which provides coursework in intelligence theory, terrorism and terrorist mindsets, management science, law, behavioral science, law enforcement communication, and forensic science—serves to improve the administration of justice in police departments and agencies at home and abroad and to raise law enforcement standards, knowledge, and cooperation worldwide.
“It was a privilege and honor for me to nominate Assistant Chief Johnny Smith to attend the FBI National Academy,” Chief Regina Carter said. “My goal when I was appointed as chief was to make sure our department gets the recognition it deserves and to make sure my officers achieve the level of success that I know they have within them. Smith is bringing back strong leadership skills that he learned at the academy and some new training that we can implement at the organizational level.”
Smith is thankful to Carter for the opportunity to attend the FBI National Academy.
“Chief Carter is dedicated to making sure the UA Little Rock Police Department is up to date with the latest training,” Smith said. “She is always supportive of officers being trained to the best of their abilities and encourages us to bring that training back to share with the community. She herself has attended the Arkansas Leader Training Program, which is the prerequisite to going to the FBI National Academy. Chief Carter and I have known each other for more than 20 years, and I couldn’t ask for a better chief.”
Smith has served with the UA Little Rock Police Department since 1994, and he is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice as well. Smith is married and the father of two sons. He began his career in law enforcement as a cadet with the Little Rock Police Department in 1984 and 1985 and later worked as an officer with the Wrightsville Police Department from 1990 to 1994.
“The FBI Academy is one of the biggest accomplishments that any law enforcement supervisor can receive,” Smith said. “I have been on the waiting list for four years. Only two people from Arkansas get selected out of the entire state to attend the academy.”
Smith earned 17 college credits at the academy and learned skills in leadership, public speaking, media relations, leading at-risk employees, and fitness in law enforcement, even developing a physical fitness and nutrition program for the UA Little Rock Police Department.
Smith’s fondest memories come from completion of the final test of the academy. Known as the “Yellow Brick Road,” the fitness test is a grueling 6.1-mile run through a hilly, wooded trail built by the Marines. Along the way, the participants must climb over walls, run through creeks, jump through simulated windows, scale rock faces with ropes, crawl under barbed wire in muddy water, and maneuver across a cargo net. When (and if) the students complete this difficult test, they receive an actual yellow brick to memorialize their achievement.
“The week before the challenge, I hurt my knee playing water polo,” Smith said. “It had swollen to a huge size, but nobody was going to stop me from running the Yellow Brick Road. I was in a lot of pain, but I was determined to do it. One guy broke his ankle but still completed the course. It’s just that important.”
The greatest asset Smith received from his time at the FBI National Academy is the friendships he built with his graduating class.
“The academy had 224 men and women from the U.S. and 24 men and women from other countries,” he said. “They are like brothers and sisters for life. There were 17 university police chiefs there that I can ask for advice. I now have friends in different states and agencies. It’s a great tool.”
Following graduation, each officer has the opportunity to join the FBI National Academy Associates, Inc., a dynamic organization of more than 16,000 law enforcement professionals who actively work to continue developing higher levels of competency, cooperation, and integrity across the law enforcement community.
Now back in Little Rock, Smith is looking forward to implementing the skills he learned at the FBI National Academy to better serve the UA Little Rock community.
“This is what it is all about, to take all the leadership skills and training we learned and to bring it back,” he said. “It makes you a better leader and gives you better training so you can train your supervisors to be better. It gives you tools you can use to be a better law enforcement provider. I’m proud to be a UA Little Rock police officer,” Smith said. “I enjoy being out here. I will continue to serve, and I look forward to making our police department and community better and safer.”