The oldest surviving retiree of the Tacoma Police Department and the last remaining officer hired before World War II has died.
Hardwick Smith, 100, passed away from natural causes Sept. 20, his family said.
Smith, born in Edmonton, Canada, and raised in Tacoma, retired as a detective in 1966 after 25 years with the department.
He was part of a group of about 40 so-called vigilante officers who in the 1940s raided gambling establishments and nightclubs that were selling illegal liquor, without their bosses’ approval.
The police commissioner fired Smith and several others, who fought to be reinstated, and eventually Tacoma changed from a commissioner form of government to the council-manager form of government of today.
“They changed the government, and I think I had quite a bit to do with that,” Smith told The News Tribune in 2010, recounting how he was fired once, suspended twice and struggled to become a detective.
“He joined the department in 1941, and at that time, I believe, the pay was $140 a month, you worked seven days a week, had two days off a month, there was no training at all,” said the department’s historian, detective Erik Timothy, who interviewed Smith about four times. “He was able to survive not only the dismissal, but the intense harassment that they inflicted on the vigilante officers.”
Losing their badges didn’t stop Smith and the others from conducting the raids.
“It was pretty humorous,” Timothy said, recounting one raid in which the officers left the criminals to find their way back to Tacoma from the office of the justice of the peace in Roy. “They thought: ‘We got them fired. They won’t bother us anymore.’ But it didn’t stop them.”
When he was promoted to detective, Smith investigated crimes such as drugs, auto thefts, rapes and murders, and believed he saved the lives of at least two people, probably more.
“He had an incredible memory for detail of the places and times of events that occurred,” Timothy said. “His hallmark to me is that he was incredibly strong. He had a vice-like grip when he’d shake your hand, that was kind of his trademark.”
He said Smith, in his 90s, had barbells at his assisted living facility. He was an athlete at Lincoln High School and played a couple years of football on scholarship for the University of Washington.
“He was tough as nails,” Timothy said. “They don’t make them like that anymore.”
Smith is survived by his son, Robert; his wife, Joan; and grandchildren, Kenneth and Andrea, along with great-grandchildren and nieces and nephews.
A funeral was held last week.
Donations in honor of Smith can be made to the Mary Bridge Children’s Foundation, the Tacoma-Pierce County Humane Society or other charities. Memorial acknowledgements will be received by Kenneth Smith at 212 Eagle Pass, San Antonio, Texas, 78260.