Locust is mourning the loss of one of its own.
Steven R. Smith, who became police chief when Frank Hartsell retired last December, died Tuesday evening. He was 44.
Locust Councilman Mike Haigler said Smith was out chopping wood with his son. The cause of death has not been independently confirmed.
“Couldn’t find anyone who didn’t like Smitty,” Haigler said. “He had that way about him. No hatred in his body at all. What you see is what you got. He was perfect for what we needed right now.”
Haigler, who was police chief until 2009, said he and Hartsell had worked with Smith throughout his career. Smith was an Explorer Scout for Haigler and in the fire department with him. He worked part-time with Locust before heading for stints with Kannapolis twice and Monroe before heading back to Locust in 2007.
Haigler said Smith was not overweight and worked out.
Before becoming chief, Smith had been responsible for the patrol division, the Field Training Officer program and overseeing Locust police department training.
Haigler said Smith was a “hometown boy” who “knew people.”
“That’s what we really need,” Locust Mayor Steve Huber said at the time of Smith’s appointment as chief. “Someone who knows this city, this community, this department … if for no other reason, you deserve this job because of your love for Locust.”
Locust Police Department posted the following release on its Facebook page Wednesday morning:
It is with the utmost tremendous sadness that the Locust Police Department must officially announce the passing of our Chief of Police, Steven R. “Smitty” Smith.
Chief Smith passed away last evening at Atrium Health Cabarrus in Concord. Chief Smith was off-duty at the time of his death. He was 44 years old.
Chief Smith was a Locust native who began his career with the Locust Police Department before working tours with the Monroe and Kannapolis Police Departments. He returned to the Locust Police Department in 2007 as a patrol officer. Chief Smith was promoted to the ranks of Sergeant and Captain at the department before being appointed Chief of Police at the end of December 2019.
Chief Smith succeeded retiring Locust Chief Frank Hartsell who along with every member of the Locust Police Department endorsed “Smitty” for the position.
Chief Smith was an outstanding decision maker and leader who held an extraordinary vision for the future of the Locust Police Department. In just six months as Chief of Police, “Smitty” had been consistently praised for his performance by the members of the Locust Police Department, Locust city administration as well as the elected members of the City Council of Locust.
Chief Smith was an “officer’s Chief” who was able to combine the perfect mixture of leadership with camaraderie. One of the ideals Chief Smith leaned heavily on was knowing that the patrol division is the heart and soul of a police department, and he knew that the department’s success and how the department would be viewed by the public was dependent on the effectiveness of its patrol officers. Chief Smith’s goal was to develop or enhance the most well-equipped, well-trained, community driven patrol officers possible and every single member of the Locust Police Department responded so positively to that leadership.
“Smitty” was adored by his peers in the Stanly and surrounding county’s law enforcement community as well as by so many members of the Locust community that had known him his entire life. “Smitty” was always a pleasure to be around and one of the most humorous storytellers you would ever meet. Chief always seemed to have the perfect “one-liner” for any occasion. All of the members of the Locust Police Department will miss him so much.
In the coming days and weeks, we ask you to please keep Chief Smith’s wife, children, family, and friends as well as the members of the Locust Police Department in your thoughts and prayers. Funeral arrangements are to be determined.
Locust City Administrator Cesar Correa released the following statement on the chief’s passing:
It is with extreme sadness and a heavy heart that the City of Locust City Council announces the sudden passing of Chief of Police Steven Smith. Preliminary indications are that his death is due to natural causes.
Chief Smith began his career in law enforcement in 1997 as a reserve officer with the Locust Police Department. He became a full-time police officer for Locust PD in 1998, and then worked with the Monroe and Kannapolis Police Departments prior to returning to the Locust Police Department in 2007. Chief Smith honorably served the citizens of Locust as Chief of Police since his appointment on December 30, 2019.
During his tenure as Chief of Police, the Locust Police Department fostered partnerships with law enforcement agencies in Stanly, Union, and Cabarrus Counties that will forever be remembered as a testament to his leadership and discipline.
Chief Steven Smith was 45 years old and is survived by his wife, Melissa, his daughter Riley, and his son Hunter.
Please keep his family, the Locust Police Department and his many friends in your prayers for the difficult days ahead. He will be greatly missed.
RIP Chief Smith, EOW 7/21/2020