By Mark E. Vogler
---- — LAWRENCE — Police Chief John Romero said he had an offer from Mayor William Lantigua to extend his contract for a year or longer.
But yesterday, after months of mulling over a possible deal that could have kept him in charge of the Lawrence Police Department for up to four more years, Romero advised the mayor he will retire effective Sept. 3, from the job he’s held for nearly 15 years.
“More than a year ago, he said he wanted me to be his police chief while he was mayor,” Romero said in an interview yesterday.
“We had a conversation about me staying and I gave it serious thought. This is one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I love it here, I love my job, I love the people and I love the men and women of the Lawrence Police Department,” said Romero, who turned 63 last month.
“But I also realized I have been doing this for 43 years and have two daughters on the West Coast who I don’t get to see too often. Over the last several months, I went back and forth. As much as you love a job, you just can’t do it forever. The overriding factor — I do want to spend time with my family,” he said.
Romero, who has been chief since early 1999, said he plans to work through Sept. 3 and then use vacation and other time he’s accrued through the end of the year when his contract expires. He said he would be available to assist in the transition period.
Mayor Lantigua, who is in the midst of an election campaign for a second four-year term, could not be reached for comment last night and didn’t return telephone calls to this reporter.
But in a press release from his office yesterday, the mayor praised Romero as a chief “with really big shoes to fill.” The statement said the mayor would make an announcement about a succession plan to fill the chief’s position in the coming days.
“It is with heavy heart that I accept this announcement today by Chief Romero, a man who has dedicated his whole life to law enforcement,” Lantigua’s said in his one-page statement.
“A press release, a sound bite or even a press conference will not do justice in highlighting his accomplishments, his professionalism and his leadership over the years. ... John will truly be missed, our department will have an immediate void going forward, but I know his work ethic and leadership style will live on at 90 Lowell Street,” the mayor said.
The mayor’s press release also cited Romero’s accomplishments in turning around a department which had been plagued with a lack of stability by a string of acting police chiefs and permanent ones who didn’t last too long during the previous decade.
Romero’s service as chief is second longest in the department’s history, topped only by former Police Chief Charles F. Hart, who spent 20 years as the Lawrence chief before retiring in 1978.
“Upon arriving in the City of Lawrence in 1999, Romero’s success stories are many,” the mayor’s statement noted.
“He immediately reorganized the department, including expanding Community Policing, implemented crime analysis and created specialized units such as internal affairs, domestic violence, special operations, information technology, burglary apprehension team, gang unit and a Home Land Defense unit to prepare the city for emerging threats,” it continued.
“In 2003, Romero gained national attention when he established the Insurance Fraud Task Force in an effort to end an ‘underground culture’ manipulated by lawyers, chiropractors and those who were staging phony car accidents. As a result of this Herculean effort; over 400 individuals were charged with fraud by 2009, a total of $15.5 million reduction in auto insurance premiums for Lawrence policy holders from 2004 through 2007.”
The mayor also credited Romero with reducing serious crime in the city by 60 percent in 2007 — the lowest crime rate in 40 years. “By 2008 the number of stolen cars reached a 38-year low and went on the decline for nine consecutive years thereafter,” the statement noted.
For his part, Romero passes the credit of the department’s success during his time as chief to the officers he supervised.
“I want to be remembered as somebody who tried to make a difference and helped make things better than when I got here,” Romero said.
“But, whatever we achieved here was done by the men and the women of this department, and I was happy to be a part of it,” he said.