Midland’s Chief of Police builds trust with staff and community, leads with compassion

Midland Police Department (MPD) officers are sporting a very special badge this year as they celebrate their 100th anniversary. The department has also completed the re-accreditation process through the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, making them one of fifty-two departments to achieve this designation in the state of Michigan. MPD has also received a grant from the Dow Company Foundation for nearly $20,000 to purchase new patrol bicycles and helmets.
City of Midland Police Department is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
The department continues to reach goals and make a positive impact with the support and leadership of their police chief, Nicole Ford. Chief Ford is Midland’s first female police chief and came to the city in February 2020, a challenging time as we faced a global pandemic and historic flooding in the months that followed. Ford believes that law enforcement is not only her profession, but her calling. She knew from a very young age that she wanted to work in law enforcement and participated in a program at just fourteen years old that put her on the path to do so. She takes on challenges as they are thrown at her knowing that one person can make a difference. Coming into a department as the new chief brought some complications, but Ford said that recognizing each other as human beings, building trust, and offering each other grace has made for a positive working environment and a stronger team.
Jeff Smith, Dillon, Mackenzie, Nicole Ford
When she is not policing the community, she’s an animal lover that enjoys concerts, traveling, and spending time with her husband, Jeff Smith, and her children. Ford married Smith, a retired police officer, in 2021. Being married to someone who fully understands the demands of this work has helped Ford transition and settle into her role as Chief. She admits that her work life balance can be a bit unbalanced at times, but her number one job is Mom. “I just love being a mom. I just can’t imagine a world without my children, as crazy as they can make you sometimes. They truly are my everything,” says Chief Ford as she talks about her children, Mackenzie and twins Zachary and Dillon.

Sadly, in December 2019, Ford’s sixteen-year-old son, Zach, died by suicide. When asked if this tragedy changed the way she policed, Ford immediately says, “Absolutely. It has changed every part of my being. I will never ever be the same person I was before Zach died, which sometimes makes me sad. I feel like I was a lighter individual, but the good trade off with that is that you realize who and what is important. Being that I was on the opposite end of a police response that I had been on countless times in my career, I can tell you that we can do better with empathy and understanding.Zach Ford & Mya That is one of my goals.  My next goal is to speak to other law enforcement officers so that they can recognize that although we have a job to do, we can do that with compassion on what is somebody else’s worst day. I think it’s important to stop treating suicide like something we need to bury in the basement. I get why people do because there is a lot of judgment when you lose a child to suicide. People think all kinds of things like ‘how could you not see this with what you do for a living?,’ but the reality is that there are a lot of kids and a lot of adults struggling with mental health and until we start talking about it just like we do a dentist appointment, people are going to continue to struggle alone and that’s where we have problems.”

As the stigma of mental health continues to be broken down, the MPD knows the importance of taking care of themselves so they can be of help to others. Ford wants her team to be present at events and get to know the people in our community, to build trust and relationships. “We are so fortunate here. We have a well-staffed department and community support. We have so many opportunities to participate in events and sit on boards. We are able to be a part of the fabric of this community and are not just responding to them. I want to continue to build our presence. I want people to know our faces and names. I want to be the first, be ahead of the curve. I want us to be progressive and proactive with things like mental health and wellness for our officers and staff. We are doing a pilot program with CMH (Community Mental Health) called iPads for Officers that will give officers and consumers immediate access to mental health resources. Things like that will set us apart,” shares Ford.

Chief Ford took part in the Police Unity Tour in Washington, D.C.
“I am so proud of my team. To get to wear Midland’s uniform, full dress blues – especially at the candlelight vigil during the Police Unity Tour kick off in Washington, D.C., and be so very proud of Midland is just a really great day. We’ve made strides in wellness for our officers because our people are our greatest asset,” continues Ford. “We have hired a mental health professional for our department. We are one of the only in the area to offer this in addition to the EAP with the city. We are also able to provide massage, chiropractic care and stretching. We want our people to be able to be good while they are here and in retirement.”
Chief Ford and Midland Police Department officers at Dow Diamond
Chief Ford participates in many community events and programs. You may see her volunteering at Midland’s Miracle Field, helping players with developmental, intellectual, or physical disabilities play baseball or perhaps at Dow Diamond taking the polar plunge for Special Olympics Michigan. MPD and the Bay City Department of Public Safety were proud to present a check to Special Olympics Michigan for $54,001 after this year’s plunge. The two departments “competed” to raise dollars for the organization. Though Midland won the challenge, there were no losers as all money raised went to a worthy cause. Working with the special needs community has become near and dear to Ford and she recently received an award from the Xavier DeGroat Autism Foundation for her leadership services.

The Chief’s ongoing involvement also includes serving as a panel member for the Eastern Michigan University Police Staff and Command Executive Panel, a Commissioner on the Michigan Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission, and a panel member for Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police Training and Education Committee and an active member of Central Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, Communities of Excellence, and Midland Rotary. She’s also a board member for Michigan Municipal League Law Enforcement Action Forum, Midland’s Kids First, MyMichigan Board of Directors, and We Hear You.

To learn more about how our officers are impacting the community, follow the Midland Police Department on Facebook and Instagram.

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Read more articles by Carly Lillard.

Carly Lillard moved to the Great Lakes Bay Region in 2007 from Traverse City. Since that time, she’s graduated from Northwood University and held positions at Dow, Northwood University, Midland Area Community Foundation, Shelterhouse and Youth For Understanding. Currently, Carly is working as the Director of Philanthropy and Strategic Relationships at Holy Cross Services while completing her Master’s Degree from Michigan State University in Strategic Communication. When she’s not writing, you will find her spending time with her husband, Jesse, and two children, Maycie and Elias. Carly can be reached at carlylillard@gmail.com.