Since the days of riding her bicycle to campus and attending basketball games as a child, Capt. Sarah Smyre has been carrying the seeds planted by UNC Charlotte in her heart. Years later those seeds would grow her desire to become an undergraduate and graduate student. And today, these experiences have blossomed into the Niner pride we see in her devotion to the University’s police department. Capt. Smyre is a shining example among those who make UNC Charlotte a great place to work. Get to know her in this Q&A.
How long have you been a member of the UNC Charlotte Police Department?
I have been a part of the police department for over nine years.
How did you become a part of Niner Nation?
I am a native of Charlotte and lived down the street — I used to ride my bicycle to campus. One of my friends lived in College Downs and her dad was a vice chancellor here. He would bring us to basketball games; we had a lot of fun.
I officially joined Niner Nation in 2001 when I enrolled as a student and stayed around until around 2007 — I received my undergraduate and master’s degree from UNC Charlotte. During that time, I remember that the police department was in the King Building and there was a walk-up window for dispatch.
By the time I finished law school in Greensboro, I was already married to a CMPD officer and having been from Charlotte and a volunteer firefighter for about a decade, I had a lot of ties to Charlotte. Greensboro was nice, but it didn’t feel like home so it made sense to come back to the area.
You earned a Juris Doctorate. How did you get on that path from there to where you are now?
It was a zig-zag journey. I never intended to be a law enforcement officer, it was nothing that was ever on my radar. I don’t have a lot of folks in my family who are in law enforcement. I joined the volunteer fire department. I started doing ride alongs when I was 16 and then I joined as a full member when I was 18, so I got that kind of first responder interaction — which was different from the police side but it had me out and about in the arena. In law school, I got a lot of opportunities to interact with the criminal justice aspect through internships. The biggest part for me was when I got to work with the Innocence Project and that drove my interest in law enforcement because I got to see some of the results of what was going on.
What made you choose UNC Charlotte for your educational endeavors?
I’ve always liked this area and the campus always felt like home. It felt right, and I knew I needed to attend UNC Charlotte.
It is without stating that April 30 is forever etched among the most memorable experiences in University history. Aside from your role with safety and security efforts on April 30, what is another memorable moment or experience for you?
Seeing how our students display so much love and care for one another and the community. The football season after April 30 during a student tailgate (which was in the parking lot near the FM-PPS Building), I and fellow officers were doing our usual walk-through to get everyone to pack up. I remember a great deal of them telling us “thank you” and giving us hugs — groups of students even did the walk-through with us and telling their peers to pack up. We got no push back and it was amazing to see the gratitude they had for us and the respect they had for one another. To be clear, they are usually respectful but from time to time we experience push back and typically it’s from non-student guests.
Describe your role and what a typical day or routine has looked like for you and your team during the pandemic.
Our team is responsible for administrative support services. We have a lot of pieces to our work including Clery Act reports, crime analysis, accreditation and other professional standards; recruitment, training, events management, access control and dispatch. We still come into the office every day. In the past year, we have done more one-on-one meetings and phone calls instead of regular staff meetings and recruitment initiatives have adjusted. We now conduct virtual interviews, which has helped us move along a little faster because a lot of our applicants are not local. The pandemic means we, too, have incorporated wearing masks and following distancing and safety protocols. The campus has been different — officers are seeing fewer students around campus but they are experiencing more traffic from the light rail that is not affiliated with the campus.
What is the fuel that motivates you to come to work every day?
I like the opportunity to help other people and that truly drives me. It makes me feel better when I think I have made a difference, it makes me want to do better. We hear people talk about “random acts of kindness” and it is true and contagious. Just doing things that make someone else’s day better even when it is something as small as stopping in and checking to see if somebody’s alright, picking up something someone dropped, opening the door for someone — it all makes a difference. And sometimes in uniform, you have a chance to make more of an impact because people don’t necessarily think that officers are kind — they tend to see officers as an enforcer. I think it is important we carry ourselves in a way that affirms for people that we are here to help as well.
In January 2022 when you celebrate being here for 10 years, what will stand out the most to you?
The connections I have made over the years and the daily interactions, especially. I may not always know what to do but because of these connections, I know who I can call on. To come to work every day knowing what to do or who to call is invaluable.
When you are not the uniformed Capt. Smyre, what does Sarah like to do?
I am pretty much attracted to doing everything outdoors. I am huge into biking and running. Currently, I am training with my 13-year-old nephew, who runs cross-country, for a triathlon we will do together in June at Hilton Head. As a new challenge to myself, I have also taken up paddleboard yoga. I also participate in some other extracurricular activities. My husband and I, along with some family and friends, regularly participate in the Keep America Beautiful project which allows us to do our part to adopt a road and pick up litter. I also never want to stop learning so right now I am enrolled at UNC Chapel Hill in their certificate of Community Preparedness and Disaster Management program.
Interview and photography by NiCole Lynch