Capitol cop greets visitors while looking out for crime

Kevin Clifford/Nevada Appeal Cpl. Randy Smith mans his post at the Capitol's front desk Friday afternoon. He has worked for the Capitol Police for 14 years, and has been a police officer for 37 years.

Kevin Clifford/Nevada Appeal Cpl. Randy Smith mans his post at the Capitol's front desk Friday afternoon. He has worked for the Capitol Police for 14 years, and has been a police officer for 37 years.

Tourists visiting Nevada's Capitol see Randy Smith as a smiling, easygoing police corporal who greets them at the front desk with tales of the capital and the state's history.

"It's a cliché, but I'm a people person," he said. "I like people. I come from a family of 10 kids so we had to get along."

He said he's not alone. Most of the longtime officers in the Capitol Police are veterans of the Los Angeles, Bay area or other police departments. While their job is to protect the Capitol and other state buildings, along with the people in them, they keep it low-key and friendly.

"I think because of our experience, we've been around the public so long now we know how to treat people when they walk through the Capitol doors," he said. "The least we can do, as we scour for bad people, is make the others feel welcome here."

It's a bit hard to see Smith as the communications officer on a Navy Swiftboat in Vietnam, let alone the Chicago street cop who worked the 1968 Democratic convention and later as a detective sergeant in homicide.

Smith spent 17 months in Vietnam before returning to his hometown Chicago and signing on with the police.

"I got there just in time for the Democratic convention," he said. "If you saw those squad cars getting turned over by the demonstrators - mine was one of them."

"I remember telling my parents, 'Sheesh, I get out of one war, and I'm in another one.'"

He said the demonstrations of the late '60s were "an awful time for police - no respect."

Things got much better in the '70s. "Things settled down, and policework became a lot more fun."

By the mid-'70s, he was a detective sergeant with a crew of seven.

"We averaged probably a murder a week," he said.

And through that period, he managed to get a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.

Smith would rather see himself playing in the Masters. But since his handicap is now rising, not falling, he doubts that'll happen. Even so, a 6 handicap isn't bad for a 58-year-old - definitely a good enough swing to take home some prizes at amateur tournaments across Northern Nevada every summer. Among police agencies, he was Illinois state golf champion three times.

Sports is a recurring theme in Smith's life. He bowls about 190 - "Not too bad for a codger" - and played city league softball until age 55 - "Just didn't have the speed anymore."

A divorce prompted his move to Nevada with three daughters to raise. He retired from the Chicago department after 23 years, and took a job with Converse sporting equipment at its Reno distribution center.

"That was great," he said. "I was warehouse supervisor there, and we got to meet all the fancy athletes Converse sponsored like Dr. J (basketball player Julius Irving) and go to all the major games and events on the West Coast."

At a girlfriend's suggestion, he signed on with the Capitol Police in 1992. He became sergeant then chief for three years, before asking to go back to sergeant.

A reclassification within Public Safety changed that rank to corporal, but nearly everybody in the building still calls him "Sergeant."

He says he's learned to take things easy, not to get all wound up unless it's really important.

After 14 years with the Capitol Police, he's starting to think about retirement.

"What I dream of doing when I retire is open up a golf driving range, wee putt and a batting cage for the youngsters - once my wife, Diane, hits Megabucks."

Until then, he said, fortunately, he still enjoys talking to visitors from around the nation and world who come to Nevada's Capitol. And he's still trying to get that handicap back down.

"I've got two games over the weekend. The two-man state tournament is in Elko in May, and I'm sure my partner would want me to bring my A-game."

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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