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No "White Shirts"

Larry Godwin takes over as Memphis Police Department director.

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Not much has changed in the office of the Memphis Police Department director. The same massive mahogany desk takes up most of the space at one end. Family photos still sit on the shelves behind the desk. But, in a job where longevity is as rare as a Willie Herenton apology, it may not be too wise to do a dramatic office makeover.

New director Larry Godwin has made a few minor changes, adding a University of Tennessee rug and an assistant's desk. And, of course, the faces in the photos have changed. But more important than the cosmetic changes, Godwin hopes to make an impact with his change in police philosophy.

Two weeks into his new job, Godwin has pledged to run the department with a more inclusive management style. One of his first mandates, implemented during the Labor Day weekend, requires administrators and senior officers to return to wearing blue shirts. Those officers had been wearing white shirts as a show of seniority.

"What was happening was that [rank and file officers] had started calling us 'white shirts,' like we were separate," said Godwin. "We're not separate. We're part of the team, and I want them to know that. The only difference is that we are responsible. I don't think that it takes a white shirt to be different." (White shirts will now be worn only on special occasions, such as memorial services.)

Godwin has not yet outlined initiatives for his term (former director James Bolden focused on handgun crimes and burglaries, while his predecessor Walter Crews battled juvenile crime), but his stated goals are accountability and professionalism. "We want to show our citizens that we're stable and solid," said Godwin. "To formulate a plan, you must involve your precinct commanders, because they know their areas and where the problems are. I won't say it wasn't done before, but it wasn't done the way we're doing it now."

According to Mayor Herenton, Bolden's laid-back manner and his lack of a clear plan to reduce crime were major reasons he was asked to resign. And Herenton didn't like Bolden's habit of wearing a suit and tie rather than a police uniform. Godwin, who was wearing a uniform during an interview with the Flyer last week, said he was aware of this issue, but he had not been given a wardrobe mandate by the mayor. In fact, Godwin said he was not given a clear reason for his selection by the mayor.

"The mayor said that he had watched officers and managers for a long time and me for a long time," said Godwin. "And he asked me if I would accept the position. There was an immediate 'thank you' from me for the opportunity to serve the citizens of Memphis."

Before Godwin's appointment, there was much speculation about the position. Some news outlets had erroneously broadcast reports that Deputy Chief Janice Pilot had received the appointment. Bolden himself, during a final interview, suggested that a deputy chief might be named.

His assessment proved to be correct, but it was another deputy chief, Godwin, who got the nod. In fact, while Bolden was announcing his retirement, Godwin was being called to the mayor's office. According to Godwin, he had not been previously contacted by Herenton about the position. Godwin had even made a preliminary congratulatory call to Pilot.

Godwin -- and his deputy director Ernest Dobbins -- received temporary appointments that must be approved by the City Council. That vote is expected later this month. To satisfy housing requirements for division directors, Godwin has purchased a home within the city limits.

There is still much to do to complete the transition, both major and minor. It's all been rather sudden. Ads featuring Bolden as chief were still being played during Memphis Redbirds games last weekend. But Godwin is taking it all in stride. "Some days, it looks like we're moving. Other days, it looks like we're running in place. But, all in all, the deputy director and I are upbeat," he said. "A lot of things we weren't privy to, because it was not our area. Now that we're being enlightened on a lot of things, we're beginning to get a feel for the entire department rather than our special areas."

E-mail: jdavis@memphisflyer.com

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