Chief proud of accomplishments as retirement nears

Becky Campbell • May 16, 2012 at 9:16 PM

Someone once told Johnson City Police Chief John Lowry he’d know when it was time to go to the house, and today marks that day as the 34-year veteran officer ends his long career.

Lowry, who was named chief in 2003, announced his retirement in January, saying it was time to hang his guns up and go to the house. Now, the 59-year-old will have plenty of time to spend with his family, travel and fish.

As for the three decades he’s spent at the city police department, Lowry said he’s loved every minute.

“When I became chief I set some goals for myself and the department. I’ve met all those goals. I think it’s time for someone else who has more push to take this department to the next level,” Lowry said.

In 1978, he started at the JCPD as a patrolman and he progressed through the ranks to lieutenant, then captain to major to deputy chief and then the top slot as chief.

“I didn’t want to be a desk sergeant and tied to a desk, but since being promoted to major that’s been my life,” he said. “You have to have good people out on the street and you have to have good people in administration. Hopefully I’ve made a little bit of difference for the better.”

But regardless of his years in administration, Lowry still feels the call of the road at times.

“I still miss it today. I’m still a patrolman at heart. I’m still a street cop at heart. I’ve been out several times, something happened and I go stick my nose in it,” he said.

The goals he set as chief were reviewing the effectiveness of the previous Public Safety Office program, when officers were cross-trained in fire operations; going to a paperless reporting system; and creating a reserve officer program.

Now, all those things are a reality for the police department.

“The police department is very busy. We’re call-driven. All the training that goes into the police officer’s work and then you look at all the training for the fire department, it’s hard,” he said.

The PSO program served the city well for many years, but as the city continued to grow and the number of police calls increased, it became more difficult.

“I think it’s been better for the citizens we serve,” to be a traditional police department, he said.

Lowry’s goal of paperless reporting started with laptops for officers to use in their vehicles, but was derailed when the city didn’t have the money to buy a computer server to tie the system together and the computers became outdated.

That’s when Lowry learned about the PDA reporting system and after studying it, he was able to implement it. Now, all city police officers are assigned an electronic device they use to write reports, look up tag numbers and check backgrounds on people they encounter.

“They only thing we don’t do on a PDA in our reports is a crash diagram. I hope that someday soon they figure out a way to do that. It’s been not only a great time saver for the officers, but it’s safer for the officers out on the street,” he said.

“It gives them a lot of great information at their fingertips. It’s made the officers more proficient, more efficient and safer.”

Lowry also headed the department in continuing state accreditation and created Fish Out 2, which pairs kids with fishermen to give them an opportunity to go out on a boat and fish.

“The last thing I wanted to do was the reserve officer program. We were able to get that up and started and we have five reserve officers now,” he said.

As for the department’s future, Lowry said the next administration will likely face issues that he did — manpower, budgeting and resources. Some of that will be involved in the newly annexed areas in Gray.

“Our capital has not been what I would like to see it … but we are afforded the equipment and personnel we need to make Johnson City the best place and safest place it can be for all of us to live, work and raise our families. That’s what we’re paid to do.”

That phrase — making Johnson City the best place and safest place it can be for all of us to live, work and raise our families — has become Lowry’s mantra.

“That’s what we’re all about,” he said. It’s something he says at speaking functions, but it’s also something he tells every officer candidate he interviews.

“If you go out here and you have a lot of pride in yourself and want to be the best you can be, you have a good attitude, and you treat every person like you would want your brother, mother, sister, father treated, you can’t go wrong,” he said.

“I believe you have to stand for something. I stood for the fact if what we do, we do it well, we’ll make Johnson City the best and safest place to be.”

Lowry said it takes about eight months to get an officer trained and out on the street, but “if you hire the very best people you can, train them the best you can, you equip them the best you can, that goes hand in hand and you have the best police department. That has been my goal.”

Lowry said he believes he’s leaving the department better than he found it, but come Friday the only things he’ll have to worry about is his boat, bait and fishing rod.

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