City Manager Wanda Page has named Ryan Smith as the director of the new Community Safety Department.
In his most recent position prior to this appointment, Smith had served as the City’s Innovation Team (I-Team) director since 2017. As the I-Team director, much of Smith’s work focused on criminal justice reform. He led a team that worked to help residents remove criminal charges from their permanent record and increase employability, restore driving privileges for more residents, lower jail and prison recidivism by providing greater supports to people returning home from incarceration, and other efforts to reduce fines and fees for residents, especially low-income residents.
Through these efforts, Smith created partnerships with District Attorney Satana Deberry, the Criminal Justice Resource Center, the Administrative Office of the Courts, Durham judges, North Carolina Justice Center, local law schools, Legal Aid of North Carolina, and others. Smith’s leadership in creating the Durham Expunction and Restoration (DEAR) Program earned him, along with District Attorney Deberry and Judges Amanda Maris and Josephine Kerr Davis, a national award in 2019 recognizing innovation in government. Smith’s team also worked to rethink how City services can best meet residents’ needs with equity-centered strategies including reducing the number of households that experience water cutoffs, reducing the amount of compostable food waste entering the landfill, and reducing single-occupancy vehicle commutes.
According to Page, Smith’s successful work with the City’s I-Team is one of the primary reasons he was selected as the director of the City’s new Community Safety Department. “Ryan’s leadership of our I-Team and its successful work in criminal justice reform made him an excellent fit to lead this new department, which is tasked with finding new, equitable, and innovative approaches to help keep our community safe and well,” Page said. “I am confident Ryan will be able to successfully tackle the creation of alternative response pilot programs in the coming year to allow us to test these programs, which will be designed to enhance our existing public safety efforts by finding new ways to address issues that don’t necessarily need a law enforcement response.”
During the pandemic, Smith took a leave of absence from the I-Team to serve as the staff lead for Mayor Steve Schewel on the COVID-19 Recovery and Renewal Task Force where he developed partnerships to create and extend City and County-led strategies for lowering the risk of COVID-19 transmission in Durham among small businesses, places of worship, and immigrant and refugee communities.
Prior to his service with the City of Durham, Smith served as director of Innovation and Strategic Initiatives for Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy where he helped to deepen Duke’s engagement with local and state government in North Carolina by creating the North Carolina Leadership Forum and the Center on Politics, Leadership, Innovation, and Service. He also developed new courses on behavioral science and human-centered design in local government.
Prior to this work, Smith worked in development for a diverse array of non-profits with missions ranging from teaching documentary photography to recently resettled refugee youth to providing free preschool to children living in poverty to supporting the creation and presentation of modern dance.
Smith holds a master's degree in Public Policy and a master's degree in Theological Studies from Duke University. He began serving in his new role effective July 5, 2021.