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VOL. 126 | NO. 39 | Friday, February 25, 2011

Godwin to Retire April 15

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin will retire on April 15, the date he set in paperwork filed last year with city government.

Godwin formally announced his departure Friday after some discussion of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. possibly keeping Godwin in the civilian position beyond his police retirement date.

Wharton said the rules of the Deferred Retirement Option Plan complicated keeping Godwin but did not make it illegal.

"This is more than the routine reappointment of a cabinet member simple because we have a legislative pronouncement ... that made it larger than this one individual," Wharton said Friday at a City Hall news conference after Godwin's announcement.

"It's not illegal to allow him to come back. The DROP plan does not address that at all. ... But the obvious intent was that once you enter this plan, you would leave. ... The question was how do we deal with this in the larger context and with some factors that were not in my control."

The factors not in Wharton's control included taking a renomination to the City Council, but Wharton would not be more specific when asked later about the reference to the council.

The announcement sets the stage for a critical decision by Wharton.

Wharton’s pick to succeed will go to the Memphis City Council for approval.

"We're going to find the best person," Wharton said without saying there would be a national search or a search limited to local candidates. "I refused to jump into this belief that you've got to do a nationwide search. If you look at our salaries, $120,000 a year is not exactly competitive in the police director market these days."

Godwin’s decision in 2006 to change police strategy to a more statistics and technology driven approach to crime has transformed the department. More importantly, the change has been credited with a drop in the city’s overall crime rate and in most specific crime categories.

The drop in crime numbers has been essential to giving credibility to Wharton’s civic theme of making the city a place where people choose to live – a “city of choice.”

Godwin began talking about a possible departure during the run up to the special election for mayor in 2009.

He was the longest-serving police director during the 18-year tenure of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton. He became interim director in August 2004 and was formally appointed to the post by Herenton in November 2004.

Herenton never second-guessed Godwin, even as Godwin began making the transition to the Blue C.R.U.S.H. method of policing, a strategy that caused some grumbling in police ranks.

Herenton backed Godwin in the transition, which was different than his direct intervention in the way his previous police directors ran the department.

Godwin, a police veteran whose time on the force began in the early 1970s, was the perfect messenger for the new methods. He opened and touted the Real Time Crime Center, a technology-rich crime tracking center, as he dusted off and renovated long-term undercover operations in which officers were trained to spend two years at a time working undercover. The undercover work had been Godwin’s first assignment as a police officer when he was part of the undercover group that worked for and then brought down the city’s original strip club kingpin, Art Baldwin.

After Herenton resigned in 2009, Godwin briefly considered running for mayor. He also said that if the winner of the election decided to go with a new police director, he hoped the new mayor would appoint someone from his rank of deputy chiefs to continue his strategy.

Wharton’s election saw a broadening of the Blue C.R.U.S.H. strategy to continue the focus on crime hot spots but also to include programs aimed at crime prevention and transition programs for convicts once they are released from prison.

Wharton said continuity will be maintained in the transition period the city now enters.

"There will be no break in continuity in enforcement efforts and direction of the department," Wharton said. "You can't let a police department drift."

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