By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
In a surprise move, Police Chief Larry Boone announced on Wednesday April 6 that he is stepping down as Norfolk’s Top Cop after serving in that post since 2016. Boone, who was the city’s third Black Police Chief, said he is retiring at the end of April with a short date to step away from duty on Friday, April 8.
According to Norfolk Councilman Paul Riddick, however, Boone’s sudden departure is more than an early retirement of choice and is the result of an alternative firing by City Manager Chip Filer which Riddick views as unfair.
Riddick noted that many civic leaders in the Black community believe that Boone is being scapegoated for the city’s inability to quell the gun violence that is plaguing the city and the region.
“I have a very viable source that Filer fired him during a meeting Boone had with him on Wednesday,” said Riddick, who is retiring after 30 years on council.
Riddick said that pressure had been building on both the Police Chief and the City Manager after a series of deadly shootings have taken place recently in Norfolk and region wide.
The most recent one claimed the life of a 33-year-old man inside of MacArthur Mall. Several other people were wounded.
Last month, as a Granby Street bar was closing, two people were killed and three others injured during an early morning shooting on Saturday outside a downtown Norfolk restaurant and bar. Among the dead was 25-year-old Virginian-Pilot reporter Sierra Jenkins, who was caught in the gunfire.
Over that deadly weekend week, four people were killed and 15 people were injured by gun violence in cities in Hampton Roads, including Norfolk.
Riddick described Boone as a very hard-working and genuine leader.
He said that as a group the eight-member council had not issued a direct ultimatum to the city manager to devise strategies to stop the gun violence in the city.
“I would admit there was an ‘unspoken’ ultimatum issued to the city manager,” said Riddick. “But there are at least two members on council who were applying direct pressure to find a way to end the gun violence.”
Norfolk Mayor Kenneth C. Alexander has told the media that there was no undue pressure or ultimatum directed toward Boone or City Manager Filer.
Following state law, the council cannot directly hire or fire a Police Chief. But they can fire the City Manager who hires them.
“No person on the council…we don’t have the authority to hire or fire the police chief,” Alexander told WAVY-TV News. “My opinion is [Boone] is a phenomenal person. He is an amazing guy. And I wish him and his family the very best.”
Police records show more shootings across the Hampton Roads and northeast North Carolina region this year — to date, at least 40 of them have been in Norfolk. Norfolk set a record for homicides last year at 61.
Riddick said Boone was facing significant challenges in recent years.
The NPD is staffed normally with 520 uniformed officers. But Boone has reported a shortage of 200 personnel.
“We normally have four precincts,” Riddick said. “Now we have two. Soon we may only have one. So he did not have the troops to go to battle at a time when gun violence is rapid not only in Norfolk Virginia but nationwide.
“He (Chief Boone) was challenged by so many issues,” said Riddick. “It is just like being in a room with multiple leaky pipes and you are trying to close the leaks with your two hands. Once you cover two leaks, a third and fourth happen.”
Boone’s announcement caught city officials off guard, including the Mayor and council by surprising them.
Boone in a statement said that the decision to retire was his own.
Boone was often open about his concern about gun violence in Norfolk, even declaring it a public health.
After recent shooting incidents in the city’s urban core, Boone would appear at the scene and engage the victim’s family and address the concerns and anger of people standing by, especially in the public housing community.
This earned him praise from Black community leaders.
Boone sought to impose reforms and transparency to a police department that had tense relationships with the Black community.
Early on in his tenure, he invested resources in recruiting and hiring more African American police officers.
He has elevated several Black Officers to higher ranks including women.
Boone first joined the NPD in 1989. He worked his way up from street patrol and other duties to Police Chief in 2016.
Before serving as chief, Boone was deputy chief for a year. He also served in the Canine Unit, Gang Suppression Unit, Metro-Tactical Unit, and the Office of Professional Standards and Patrol Division.
Balil Muhammad, who is a leader of the Stop The Violence Team, said that Chief Boone would often attend his rallies and speak.
“I saw that man cry several times as I was standing next to him at those events,” said Muhammad. “He sat and told me one time this would happen to him.”
“I think he leaves a great legacy of public safety, in this city. He was excellent at public engagement, he was a people person. He cared about policing and he tried to open the doors and elevate African Americans in that department. It is a shame he was set up like this.”
“After serving this community for over 30 years, I have decided the time is right to retire,” Boone said in a statement from the city manager’s office. “My goal was to see the department through the pandemic and, as we begin to emerge, there is an opportunity for a change in leadership.”
Filer also praised the outgoing chief.
“We are grateful for Chief Boone’s years of service to our city. He established partnerships and outreach initiatives that fostered relationships between our police and our community,” said Filer. “
The search process for a new chief is expected to take five months.
Mike Goldsmith, whom Boone replaced in 2016, will be interim police chief until the city manager hires a new one. Goldsmith was with the police department for 27 years, including four years as the chief.