NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Nearly a month after news broke of his sudden retirement from the department he served for decades, former Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone sat down with 10 On Your Side to talk about his decision to leave and his tenure as the department’s top brass.
On April 6, Norfolk City Manager Chip Filer held a brief press conference to announce Chief Boone’s departure, a press conference 10 On Your Side did not receive notice about beforehand.
On May 16, Boone sat down with WAVY News for his first interview since leaving the department. He discussed his decision to retire, the challenges he faced during his tenure, among many other topics. In the weeks since he’s left, he says one thing is for certain.
“I still watch the news and I see that those challenges still exist.”
The news of his retirement came after a number of high-profile, fatal shootings took place downtown, including one on Granby Street and at the MacArthur Center, as well as continued problems with recruitment and retention within the department.
Boone first joined the department in 1989 and served as police chief from December 2016 to May 2022. He served as deputy chief before being appointed as police chief. He also served in the Canine Unit, Gang Suppression Unit, Metro-Tactical Unit, the Office of Professional Standards and Patrol Division.
Rumors of the reason behind Chief Boone’s decision quickly began circulating. Viewers took to 10 On Your Side’s social media leaving comments about the announcement.
Some viewers left positive comments saying they appreciated how Boone used to “tell it like it is.”
Others blamed him for the surge in violence in the city and for issues with recruitment within the department.
Decision for departure
The news of his retirement shocked many in the community who were blindsided by the news. Rumors began swirling about whether other leaders pushed him out.
Boone talked about how after the death of George Floyd and policing came under a national spotlight, many officers and even chiefs nationwide were leaving their respective departments.
He says he never wanted to leave then.
“I’m an athlete by nature; I’m competitive,” he said. “I wanted to fix this vacancy issue, this pay issue. And I felt that, I felt strongly that we would get it done. But unfortunately, we didn’t.”
Two years later, he said his outlook changed.
“It comes a point where you’ve done your very best,” he said. “And I can read the tea leaves that my very best would not be good enough. So I decided to retire.”
When pressed about whether the decision was made for him, Boone reinforced that it was his decision to ultimately leave the department to which he devoted 33 years of his life.
“Nobody muscles me,” he said. “I know what it looks like on the surface, but let me close with this, I’m retired.”
Start of his tenure
Having worked in the department for decades in multiple units, Boone was well aware of many challenges the department faced.
As previously reported, Boone heavily focused on following guns used in crimes as well as focusing on gangs because he says he knew gangs drove crime.
“Having spent some time in the gang unit, I knew that gangs drove our crime,” he said. “The challenge was getting every unit to focus on that as well.”
In his words, he “turned it upside-down” by having units focus on the impact of gang violence.
During the first three years of his tenure, crime was at its lowest rate in years within the city. Guns still continued to be an issue.
Then the pandemic hit.
Challenges over the years
Coverage in the recent months has centered around issues with staffing retention and recruitment in the Norfolk Police Department, but also in police departments nationwide.
Boone says, however, he saw the first signs of the problem years ago. In the fall of 2018, he scheduled interviews with every person in the department to talk about two things: manpower and pay.
“I think I ended up speaking to well over 680 people. One-on-one for 30 minutes each, sometimes longer than 30 minutes, but it was worth it to me,” he said.
He brought the issue up to city leaders in January 2019.
At the time, city leadership worked with him on budgets to encourage officers to stay as well as find ways to give existing officers raises.
He addresses more of how they tried to deal with officer retention in the video below.
The landscape changed following the death of George Floyd, as well as when the pandemic started. More officers began leaving and it got harder to recruit in the first place.
He specifically talks about his decision to march with Black Lives Matter protestors at the peak of when protests started nationwide.
Boone admits he knew the move would anger people, but he says he did it for a reason.
“My goal was to keep the officers safe, keep the citizens safe, keep the city from destruction,” he said. “And ultimately, those goals were achieved.”
In light of the George Floyd protests, 10 On Your Side discussed with him the role race plays in policing.
Boone said it bluntly, the Norfolk Police Department is not a racist department and is one of the most diverse departments in the state.
In his experience though, some promotions or transfers came with scrutiny.
“I always got push back from someone, okay. That’s just the nature of it. The only time I never got push back, if it was all white males,” he said.
10 On Your Side pressed him about the violence on Granby Street within the last few months of his time as chief. Specifically, he was asked whether the city is focused on their investment in the community or Granby Street.
He responded with, “So, I’m retired,” and laughed.
Looking to the future
Boone has a message for whoever takes over the role in the future.
“Norfolk is a dynamic city and you have to be courageous, you have to be bold,” he said. “Every decision you make, make sure the community is part of said decision.”
The New Jersey native paid homage to Frank Sinatra when asked how he wanted to be remembered.
“He did it his way.”