Little Rock police chief steps down

Saturday, January 1st 2005, 4:05 pm
By: News On 6

LITTLE ROCK (AP) _ Little Rock's first black police chief stepped down Saturday after nearly five years on the job.

Lawrence Johnson, 53, plans to return to Oklahoma City, where he was senior chief deputy of the police department. He will be on accrued paid leave until he officially retires this spring.

Johnson, a 32-year veteran of law enforcement, said his decision to leave has nothing to do with his criticism several months ago that city leaders weren't supportive enough of the police department. When he became police chief in March 2000, Johnson said he would probably retire in five years.

``I've done my best,'' Johnson said recently. ``I feel that I've given not only this police department but the city of Little Rock ... 100 percent. Now it's time to do something else.''

Last spring, Johnson expressed frustration with the mayor, city manager and board of directors, saying they didn't honor their pledge to make public safety their first priority.

Johnson's budget actually saw slight increases, but they weren't enough to replace officers who resigned, retired or were fired, leaving shortages and forcing cutbacks in patrols and community policing.

City Manager Bruce Moore said the city devoted as much as it could to the police department. He said all city agencies have had to do more with less over the past few years. Moore also commended Johnson for maintaining the department's accreditation.

During his tenure, Johnson's leadership was criticized by the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police. In March 2002, about half of the 450-member union voted no-confidence in the chief and called for his resignation.

The state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Black Police Officers Association backed the chief, suggesting that the union vote was racially tinged. FOP President Mike Verkler denied any racial motivation. At the same time, the union accused the chief of discriminating against white officers in promotion and transfer decisions.

Johnson said he wished the best for his successor. Assistant Police Chief Carlos Corbin has been named interim chief.