When Tanya Smith retired from the Prince George’s County Police Department last year, she decided to go back to work.

For Smith, 59, that meant getting back to what she loved most about her job: meeting with neighbors, connecting them to resources and, at times, passing out ice cream.

“It’s all about the people,” she said. “My joy is the people. My joy is seeing a difference. My joy is being a part of making a difference for the children to come up.”

With more than a decade of experience as a community-oriented police officer for Prince George’s police, Smith has focused her post-law-enforcement life into building a nonprofit for the same people she used to serve behind a badge. In September 2020, Smith founded Revelations of All Resources (ROAR) to provide food, shelter and family services to the area. Now, she has her sights on having the nonprofit work with others to tackle youth violence.

Community members and nonprofit organizers alike say Smith’s empathy sets her apart. Amid a surge of crime impacting juveniles both as perpetrators and victims, she and other leaders of nonprofits formed a coalition to create solutions against crime involving youth.

“She helped the neighborhood quite a bit,” said Robert Jackson, 80, of Landover. “It’s just good to know that, see that some people really care, and she is one of them.”

Deaths and crimes involving children in the county have risen over the past year. Most recently, a 16-year-old, Quincy Barnes, was fatally shot in Upper Marlboro on Nov. 13, becoming the 10th juvenile homicide victim this year. In 2020, there were three juvenile homicide victims, according to Prince George’s police.

There have been 11 juveniles charged in homicides in the county this year compared with six in 2020, according to data from the department. That includes a case in April, in which a 12-year-old boy was charged with murder in the shooting of King Douglas, a 13-year-old boy, in Capitol Heights.

Seated in foldable chairs in the driveway of her Upper Marlboro home in August, passing out information sheets and cups of water, Smith, alongside a handful of community advocates, discussed the rising numbers.

“We want to hear from them, what they feel that needs to take place because we have plenty ideas, we’ve seen things in different areas … We’ve got to find out from these youth what’s going to work in this area,” said Pastor William J. Johnson, one of the community advocates and nonprofit leaders.

Smith nodded. “Let’s work together on a level where we can understand,” she said.

A native of the District, Smith was raised by her mother and grandmother and grew up alongside her two sisters. While her mother sold Avon beauty products, Smith said her family moved frequently and lived in some of the tougher neighborhoods in the city.

“I came up in poverty. My mom was a single mom, I had no dad … so I know what it is like not to have,” she said. “My mom used to always teach us … don’t let anybody take your happiness from you. That’s what we’re here to explain to these young kids.”

After a stint as a paralegal, Smith joined the Prince George’s County Police Department in 1994 and worked for several years on patrol while raising her young daughter. She applied to join the community oriented policing service (COPS) unit after a recommendation and soon found her “niche,” she said.

She spent much of her time in the police district that included the Palmer Park and Landover area, and took an interest in getting to know the young adults in the community. After her mother died just after Smith’s 19th birthday, Smith said she knew how it felt to make decisions by herself, being influenced by peers and “not having anybody” behind her. Smith wanted them to know that she was there to listen. When the community centers hosted programs with video games and basketball for the kids, she was on the court or in the game room.

“They would love the fact that they could try to beat ‘Cpl. Smith,' ” she said.

“The more you do it, the more they get used to you caring for them. Even sometimes taking them out to lunch,” Smith continued. “No matter how hard they are, they might just want you to care. They want to know that you understand and you love them regardless.”

During her time on COPS, Smith also formed the District III COPS Girl Scout Troop #3616 to provide children with positive opportunities outside school.

Ngonda Agha, 22, said Smith served as her Girl Scout troop leader when she was in middle school, and recalled how it felt to belong to a community during “an important stage” in her life.

“She wants to guide others to also be the best versions of themselves,” Agha said. “She personally has been someone in my life who has shown up for me … and that’s what allows people to really build that bond.”

Bernadette Trowell, president of Mothers on the Move Spiritually (MOMS), a local nonviolence nonprofit organization, said Smith, during her time at the police department, helped to set up a neighborhood watch organization in the Columbia Park area. Though the organizers mostly dealt with crime prevention, Trowell said Smith would also give away food and pass out clothing to those in need.

Together, the two focused on helping families affected by gun violence and finding ways to steer youth living in the area away from drugs and violence, such as neighborhood clean ups, toy collections and community meetings, Trowell, 76, said.

“She had her hands in everything,” Trowell said, including when violence affected those in the neighborhood, specifically mothers whose children died.

“Any deaths … I would call her and she would be [here] Johnny-on-the-spot,” Trowell said. “She would go with me even to hospitals, and everything. In the person’s home.”

In Hyattsville, Juanita Bright, 61, said her mother attended some of the meetings Smith hosted, and the two formed a close bond. Bright would frequently see Smith in the area and said she saw her ability to build relationships with the community, even with the balance of developing trust as a police officer.

“The division between law enforcement and the community is enormous. They don’t trust law enforcement. And when you don’t trust law enforcement, it’s very difficult for you to have any sort of relationship with them,” Bright said. “However, I think that with Cpl. Smith, she showed some light in that area. She came onto the block and people knew who she was, and knew that she had great intent.”

Smith said she understood the barriers that communities face in forming relationships and partnering with the police in creating change.

“You got to understand where they’re coming from … They feel that they have to do this to survive,” Smith said. “I had a little boy come to me and say, ‘Oh, the police? We hate the police.’”

“I have to really make that kid that’s watching know that we are here to enhance your life, and not to injure it,” she said.

The coalition has participated in pop-up events around the county, setting up tables with information pamphlets alongside snacks and ice cream outside apartment buildings to start up conversations with passersby about ways to end youth violence, Smith said.

Johnson said that the pop-ups are meant to embrace the idea that “it takes a village” when it comes to developing solutions for the community.

“We’re trying to make this connection of having avenues for the listening,” Johnson said. “Where all age groups are coming together to help all age groups to understand.”

Retired Lt. Jarriel Jordan Sr., who oversaw Smith from 2009 to 2013 on COPS in the police department, said her passion for the community stood out. Her monthly meetings included directors of county agencies and local elected officials, Jordan said, with the effort to start conversations and provide information to the community in one place. Her nonprofit is a continuation of the work she had done before, Jordan said.

“Whatever she does, when it comes down to the community, she’s going to have support from the citizens,” Jordan said. “You got to have Tanya on your team to do some of this stuff because of her passion. She can definitely make a difference.”