By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
On April 6, Norfolk’s Larry Boone announced his sudden departure from his post as Chief of the Norfolk Police Department that he had held since 2016. While City Councilman Paul Riddick said publicly Boone was fired, the Norfolk City Manager’s office said Boone retired.
Last week when the New Journal and Guide asked the former chief for an interview, he agreed; but, at this point he could not talk about anything relating to his exodus as Police Chief, as part of an agreement with the city.
Instead Boone, who was Norfolk’s third African American police chief, did respond to a list of questions submitted by the GUIDE on topics relating to his tenure as Norfolk’s top cop. It is the first of any responses to the media that Boone has made since leaving office.
NJG: What is next for Larry Boone? You are a young man with a credible record in urban law enforcement; would you like another job?
LB: Urban policing is extremely challenging but it’s a natural fit for me. For now, I’m merely going to relax before I start exploring other opportunities that may come my way.
NJG: Was there anything you could or would have done differently as far as combatting gun violence?
LB: I don’t think so, as an organization we created a gun database that highlighted the Who, What, When Where, and Why. We involved the ATF, FBI, and DEA in our efforts to address gun violence.
During my first three years crime was at an all-time low but we were still facing challenges with gun violence which why I wanted to introduce a community grassroots gun violence organization then to buttress our efforts. Thankfully, the city is now taking that approach and if implemented correctly, it may yield positive results. I say may because there is a strong nexus between poverty and crime and until poverty can be addressed, sadly crime will still be an issue.
NJG: You described gun violence as a public health issue. Do you think the public, lawmakers and the judicial system listened?
LB: The sheer number of Americans killed by gun violence is extremely alarming. At some point, we are going to have to make some difficult decisions surrounding that issue. Here in Norfolk, during my career there’s been over 1000 gun homicides where over 900 of the victims have been African Americans. Now this isn’t exclusive to Norfolk, it’s a reality in all urban cities across the nation.
I was the first Norfolk Chief to make this information known for public consumption in an effort to galvanize awareness and focus on the issue. As to if lawmakers listened, I can say this, when I started releasing our gun data for public consumption, I got multiple visits from lawmakers surrounding the issue.
NJG: What do you think was your biggest achievement as chief?
LB: As a chief, no achievements are realized solely because of you. I had many people that had a hand in many of our achievements, ranging from community policing, crime prevention, transparency, law enforcement publications, promotions, and building a culture of authentic inclusion—internally and externally. Many of which were a first for the department that were recognized nationally and internationally.
NJG: What factors are attributed to police departments failing to recruit new people?
LB: There are many factors impacting recruitment, low pay, police reform, officers not feeling embraced by the community. But the biggest factor driving the issue stems from the George Floyd murder. All across the country, officers were retiring and/or resigning. I was very vocal about police reform after the Floyd incident and believed police reform was needed to some degree. However, my main concern was overreaching in that regard to the point we handicap the officers. Here in Norfolk, a lot of the changes the community wanted we already had in place years before the Floyd incident.
NJG: What was your biggest disappointment?
LB: My biggest disappointment was the negative backlash I received from “some” during the summer of protest for joining BLM (Black Lives Matter) – locally and nationally. I don’t think folks fully understand what I was trying to achieve that day. I simply wanted peace for our city. I didn’t want our officers placed in harm’s way or the protesters.
Because of the political and professional backlash now, I understand up until now why I’m the only African American Chief to ever hold a BLM sign in the world.
NJG: Any regrets?
LB: I’m sure I have a few. All any leader can do is make the best decision possible with the information he or she has at that time. And if it doesn’t pan out you have to own it. Nobody gets it right all the time–I did my best.
NJG: Despite what the police union says, what was the level of morale in the department when you left?
LB: Morale is tricky; it’s different for each individual. When I was an officer, I used to hear all the issues surrounding morale. I never experienced a low morale issue. I guess because of difficulties I had growing up, I always tried to see the cup half full. But low morale is a real concern particularly in this day and age due to those issues I mentioned previously.
NJG: How powerful are unions today and are they a hindrance to reform-minded chiefs and policymakers?
LB: That depends on location. In larger departments where unions are well established, they are very powerful. Unions are uniquely positioned to do some great things on behalf of the officers, which I support.
However, I’ve seen where unions support “bad apples” that should be removed from the organization and that’s troublesome because it makes you wonder how deep is the culture.
NJG: What word of advice would you give to the person who replaces you?
LB: Be courageous, it’s impossible to please everybody; and center the community in all of your work; and explain to your rank and file why it’s important to do such.
NJG: What are five political policies which would be imposed to reduce gun violence and crime in general?
LB: • Impose certainty of punishment for illegal possession of a firearm
• Keep guns out of the hands of people who are legally prohibited from owning them.
• Every gun owner must secure guns in the home
• Implement evidence-based policing strategies to target the small number of offenders who are responsible for most gun violence.
• Ballistics technology (NBIN) is extremely powerful. We need to fully utilize it. Connecting guns to their users helps to solve crimes and prevent future offenses.
• Most importantly stop the flow of illegal guns from entering the black market.
NJG: What did you do to deal with criticism you thought was unfair? Was there any coping strategy you adopted?
LB: Generally, I don’t allow mere criticism to impact me. On the other hand, if I find there is merit to it, I was always open to evaluating said utility of it. My coping strategy was working out in the gym. I’ve been an athlete my entire life and I recognize the benefits it yields mentally, physically, and spiritually.
NJG: Why did you think it important to show up at crime scenes critical or otherwise?
LB: I can’t begin to tell you how important it is as the police chief to go to those scenes and see the faces of those impacted, to hold their hands or hug them and look them squarely and the eyes and tell them you’re going to everything in your power to give them comfort.
NJG: How do you respond to critics who said it was “showboating?”
LB: I’m disappointed if some folks believe that. I think I’ve demonstrated that I’m an authentic person. As police chief, if I’m going to show up for ceremonial events such as ribbon cutting and groundbreaking, I damn sure better show up for those difficult events where people are hurting.
NJG: Not to address your situation directly, but are politicians and the public too quick to “scapegoat” law enforcement, which many say is just reacting to address their (public/political) failures?
LB: I can’t answer that question…
Photo: Former chief Boone (R) with Stop the Violence team leader and rally organizer Bilal Muhammad at Berkley rally in March.
Photo by Randy Singleton