MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Growing up in Mahopac, Laura Smith had no intention of becoming a cop. In fact, the 2002 MHS grad had designs on a career as a physical therapist. She graduated magna cum laude from Towson University with a degree in athletic training.
But things don’t always go as planned. After hearing that the Carmel Police Department had an opening, she decided to throw her hat in the ring. In 2007, she got the job, went through the training and became the first female officer in the history of the department. Last week, some 10 years later, Smith was promoted by the Town Board, becoming the first female sergeant for the Carmel PD.
“I never thought I’d be a police officer,” Smith, 33, told Mahopac News. “When I was 17, I joined the Mahopac Volunteer Fire Department right after 9/11 (where she held the ranks of lieutenant and captain). My mom was an ER nurse at Putnam Hospital Center and my dad was volunteer fire chief. My brother was a sergeant for the Kent police, so civic duty was a big part of my family growing up. I went to college and was going to be a physical therapist, but this [opportunity] came around and I thought, ‘Hey, just do it!’”
Having been a volunteer firefighter, Smith said it was a reasonable transition to becoming a police officer.
“You do a lot of the same things,” she said. “You care for people’s property and for people when they are hurt and sick. And I like being out and about in the community. I took the test and did really, really well.”
Being the first woman on the force, Smith said she knew that she would have to prove herself.
“It was strange at first,” she said. “There were some who welcomed me and there were some who were uncertain. Right off the bat, I had to prove I could hang with the boys physically and personality wise—that they didn’t have to act [differently] around me and that I was one of them. After a few months, I think they realized it was going to be OK; it wasn’t the worst thing that was going to happen. But when I put on the uniform, I am not a female police officer, just a police officer.”
Nonetheless, Smith said that as a woman she believes she brings a unique set of skills to the job.
“I feel like people like to talk to me when they have a problem,” she said. “Maybe I look more approachable and more compassionate, I don’t know. I try to give them my best attention.”
Smith said she has always had one eye on being promoted. She took the sergeant’s test three years ago and was waiting for an opening.
“I am definitely proud and excited to go forward in my career,” she said. “This was always a goal of mine—to proceed through the ranks.”
Earlier this year, the Town Board appointed a second woman to the police force, which Smith said is welcomed, but added that she’s happy to see the department being restored to its old staffing levels after so many budget cuts and rumors that it could be dissolved altogether.
“I think the Town Board realizes the value of the police department and that the officers here are a dedicated and hardworking group,” she said. “And women in law enforcement are definitely needed; they definitely bring a different set of qualities and skills to the department.”
Smith is married to Brian Lena, a New York City fireman and a volunteer for the Mahopac Fire Department.
“My family is super proud,” she said. “Everyone is relieved that the moment is here.”
Police Chief Mike Cazzari, who recommended Smith for the promotion citing her professionalism and dedication, said that as a hometown girl Smith is well known throughout the community.
“She is well liked by the residents for her professionalism and attentiveness,” Cazzari said. “She is a homegrown officer who has brought her sense of civic duty to her chosen profession and to [Mahopac].”
Supervisor Ken Schmitt, a retired Carmel police sergeant, had high praise for Smith and said her promotion was well-deserved.
“Looking at Laura’s resume, it’s pretty outstanding—her achievements and her accomplishments and all the training and various expertise she has in law enforcement,” he said. “She is an extremely educated police officer and brings those talents and skills to the Carmel Police Department. It’s a great honor to promote her to sergeant. We know she is going to do a great job and she will be a great leader.”