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Spotlight on UT Police at Houston: Public Safety Officer of the Year Lester Smith Jr.

January 30, 2024 By: Sherneka Cagle

Spotlight on UT Police at Houston: Public Safety Officer of the Year Lester Smith Jr.

UT Police consists of police officers, public safety officers, telecommunicators, and civilian employees- all of whom contribute to the success of the division. This Spotlight on UT Police at Houston series provides more information about those who work hard to ensure safety on the campuses of UTHealth Houston and MD Anderson Cancer Center. Meet 2023 Public Safety Officer of the Year, Lester Smith Jr.

Tell us about your career with UT Police.

Prior to arriving at UT Police, I was employed by a major supermarket chain as a District Loss Prevention Manager. My duties were investigating and referring for prosecution all internal and Organized Retail Crimes. That also included investigating financial crimes such as check forgery, credit/gift card scams and vendor fraud. After the company downsized, my position was terminated, and I needed to find another job quickly.  I applied with UT Police and was lucky to be given a job offer as a public safety officer.  When I completed training, I began working on the evening shift. Only five months later I transitioned over to the Power Shift (7 a.m.-6 p.m.) and then to day shift where I am currently. In recognition of my hard work, I was promoted to Senior Public Safety Officer and have been at the MD Anderson Cancer Center West Houston location for almost 2 years.  

I enjoy knowing that leadership asks for my informed opinions. While working, I was approached by retired Assistant Police Chief Vickie King. who asked me if I had noticed any issues around the hospital that the department could improve on. Without hesitation, using my existing knowledge on loss prevention, I informed King that the loading dock security measures had several potential vulnerabilities. Also, during the height of the pandemic when many employees began working from home. There was a limited tracking system of computer equipment leaving the buildings. On several occasions I refused to allow anyone exiting the building to leave with computer equipment without proper documentation. Weeks later, after my conversation with Chief King, I was told that both my concerns were taken to the executive board for review. Later I learned that a new system was put in place to track all computer equipment leaving the institution and new protocols and counter measures were put in place to address vulnerabilities at the loading dock. Once I realized my loss prevention expertise could play a vital role in the enhancement of the overall security of the institution, I became even more focused and passionate about my job duties.      

What is the most challenging or rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that I’m making a difference every day. When you are passionate about what you do, people can see and appreciate it. Patients, their family members, and staff thank me for making them feel safe and providing great customer care. That’s all the motivation I need.

What makes working at UT Police enjoyable?

The most enjoyable part of my job are the relationships I have developed with many of the patients at MD Anderson Cancer Center West Houston. This outlying location is a small community, so I know just about everyone here. Daily, patients come into the building looking for me. I recently returned from a two-week vacation to find that several patients had left messages stating they were looking forward to seeing me upon my return.

What advice would you give to new PSOs or someone looking at applying to be a PSO?

The best advice I could give to anyone applying for a position at UT Police is to have a great work ethic. This entails being dependable, self-motivated, passionate, coachable, and having high expectations for themselves and others. Applicants should also adhere to the protocols and instructions put in place to better serve the community we are entrusted with keeping safe.

What do you do in your free time?

I enjoy watching football.  Sorry Texans fans, but my favorite pro team is the Saints. I was born and raised in Louisiana, so shout out to the Who Dat Nation. Having been a former distance runner, I also enjoy attending high school and college track & field meets, along with reading and cooking Creole Cajun foods.

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