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Growing gun violence helped fuel former Norfolk Police Chief Boone's decision to retire

Boone said he was not forced out and chose to retire after 33 years on the force.

NORFOLK, Va. — Former Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone is very direct in his answers about why he is no longer the city's top cop.

"Nobody forces me to do anything I don't want to do. I retired," Boone said.

Norfolk City Manager Chip Filer announced Boone's sudden departure last month in the wake of two high-profile shootings, with no arrests in either case. 

The first was in front of Chicho’s in Downtown Norfolk. Five people were shot, three of which were killed.

"The last bit of information that I had received was that they were in the process of having video reviewed from different locations surrounding the incident, and I don’t know what came out of that," Boone said.

Norfolk police previously said no security cameras were working in the area that night.

RELATED: 'We're still sleeping in pain:' A month later, still no arrests in Downtown Norfolk shooting

Since that shooting and another shooting that left one man dead at the MacArthur Center Mall, Norfolk police have increased presence downtown Thursday through Saturday and added temporary cameras.

It's an addition that Downtown Civic League Vice President Preston Carraway said he doesn’t want to see go away now that Chief Boone is gone.

"We do want to see justice brought in that case," Carraway said. "I’m hoping that we can not only maintain the cameras we have down here but also invest in some more permanent solutions."

Boone said the gun violence definitely played a role in his decision to end his tenure as chief.

"I came to the point that there is very little I can do at this point to impact gun violence," Boone said.

To solve the problem, Boone believes it goes way beyond good policing.

"Until we address poverty, I don't care where it is, whether it's Detroit, Cleveland or any of those areas, where's there's an urban setting, poverty, we're going to continue to have these conversations," Boone said. "That is the only thing that will fix this."

Boone spent 33 years on the Norfolk police force. He was appointed as the chief in December 2016 after serving as deputy police chief. Before that, Boone worked in the canine unit, gang suppression unit and the metro-tactical unit.

Deputy City Manager Mike Goldsmith is now serving as interim police chief. He served as Norfolk’s police chief for over four years before Boone took over in 2016.

Out of all of his years of service, the most difficult time to be an officer is right now, according to Boone. "The challenges are insurmountable."

That challenge is being reflected in the number of officer vacancies. Last month, the department reported 228 vacancies among sworn officers.

According to Boone, the problem of vacancies within the department started in 2019 primarily over pay issues. While tending to those concerns, the pandemic hit, followed by the killing of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer at the time. The weight of that moment had a profound effect on the community launching days of protests over police brutality. 

Boone said he joined a protest out of concern that it could turn violent after he received reports that there were plans to burn a precinct. 

"When I joined the protest, it was from the position of keeping the officers safe so that they wouldn't have to go hands-on with certain protestors and at the same time it was from the approach of keeping the folks safe inside that precinct," Boone said.

But Boone said even though his presence may have kept protestors, officers and the precinct safe, the backlash came in form of officer departures. 

"And then on top of that, there was a discipline decision that myself and the city manager had to make that went national and you had officers leave because of that as well," Boone said.

Boone does not attach low officer morale to the uptick in gun violence but too many firearms in the wrong hands, "the large sale of guns and folks that are in possession of these guns and shouldn't have them."

He describes gun violence as a problem far from finding a solution and is stumped when trying to think of what to tell a weary community tired of the shootings. "If I had that answer, I wouldn't have retired."

He is proud, however, of the accomplishments achieved while he was at the helm, especially when it comes to community outreach. "We became the incubator of community outreach."

So for what's next, Boone is not in a rush. He'll make a move when he's ready.

"I've developed an appetite for chilling," he laughed. "But I'm not the type to flatback all day, right? So I'll explore opportunities as they arrive."

Watch the full interview below:

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