Canby Police Chief Retires April 1 after 40 Years in Law Enforcement

After 29 years with the Portland Police Bureau, followed by 11 more serving the local community, Canby Police Chief Bret Smith is hanging up his badge.

“I’m feeling good,” Chief Smith told The Canby Current Tuesday. “I feel like it’s a good decision, and I’m leaving on a good note. It’s been a great career — I have no regrets.”

Smith will officially step down Thursday, April 1 (no joke), after a small private retirement gathering with family and colleagues. His successor, current Capt. Jorge Tro, a 23-year veteran of the Canby force, will serve as acting chief until his formal swearing-in before the Canby City Council later in the month.

Smith said he grew up in a military family and always felt a calling to serve in law enforcement. He ended up entering the academy with two friends from high school who were interested in the same path.

He rose through the ranks in Portland, putting in his time as a beat cop and detective. He spent a number of years in the child abuse unit and on investigations into human trafficking and sex crimes and, eventually, was part of a reform push that created a dedicated Family Services Division within the PPB.

After nearly three decades, Smith was preparing to retire as assistant chief of Portland’s investigations branch — yet “I knew I wasn’t done,” he recalled.

“A friend had referred me to Canby and, initially, I actually wasn’t that interested,” he said with a chuckle. “But as time went on, again, I began to really feel like it was a calling here. And I knew I would be challenged, and I looked forward to the opportunity to take on some new challenges.”

Smith joined the Canby PD in January 2010. It was a time of great change and movement for the force — in some ways, literally — as the department was soon to relocate from its cramped digs downtown (a then-75-year-old building that was originally built as a garage) to its new, 36,400-square-foot station at 1175 N.W. Third Ave., which was almost six times larger.

Smith’s approach to the department centered on his philosophies of community policing, building strong relationships outside the organization and innovative, new approaches to old problems.

While Canby, at fewer than 20,000 souls, obviously differs from Portland’s 650,000 — Smith said that in some of the most important ways, policing is policing.

Read Chief Smith’s farewell letter to the community of Canby:

Click to access Retirement-Goodbye-to-Citizens.pdf

“Certainly, Canby is a much smaller community,” he said, “but when it comes to service, when it comes to caring for people, when it comes to the training that’s required in the academy for us, the truth of the matter is there’s not a lot of difference.

“Police work has a very common thread that runs through it, and that has to do with the protection of people and property, and it has to do with how we respond to our neighborhoods to create community trust. And those don’t really change.”

Despite being an economically, racially and politically diverse community, Canby has largely avoided the friction between police and activists seen in other places — notably, Portland — in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests last year.

Canby regularly ranks among the safest cities in the state, and its police force enjoys broad community trust and approval. He credits much of that to his department and his officers’ commitment to proactivity and communication.

“I think one of the things that may be different here is we do have a lot of support from our community and from our city government,” he said. “It has not been adversarial in any way, and any issues that come up, we try to deal with them and have that dialogue.”

Even in retirement, don’t expect Smith to slow down anytime soon. He and another longtime municipal police chief have accepted a part-time gig with the Department of Public Safety Standards & Training to conduct statewide training with departments on conducting personnel and administrative investigations.

And, speaking of training, he’s planning some bird hunting forays with the newest addition to his personal force — a hunting dog named Frank.

“Kind of a little bit of this, a little bit of that — but not full-time anything,” he said with a laugh. “And it’s not like I’m counting down the days. I enjoy coming to work. I feel like I’ve added value to the organization and it’s been very personally enriching. I really am thankful for the career, and the time I’ve had here in Canby.”

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