Flint Police Chief Timothy Johnson resigns, announces run for sheriff

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FLINT (WJRT) (11/8/2019) - Flint Police Chief Timothy Johnson is resigning effective at noon Friday so he can run for Genesee County sheriff next year.

He made the announcement around 11 a.m. in a letter to outgoing Mayor Karen Weaver.

"It was truly a heartfelt moment," Johnson said. "But it was time for me to step forward and move further in my career as a law enforcement officer in this community."

The Detroit News is reporting that Mayor-elect Sheldon Neeley planned to fire Johnson on Monday, when he gets sworn into office. Deputy Police Chief Devon Bernritter is expected to become the department's top official for the weekend until Neeley appoints a replacement.

Johnson is the second candidate to announce plans to run for Genesee County sheriff. He will face former Saginaw County Undersheriff Phil Hart, who previously worked for the Flint Police Department.

Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell has announced he plans to retire in January, opening his position. A committee met Friday to discuss how to appoint a successor to finish Pickell's term until the November 2020 elections.

Johnson was appointed Flint police chief in February 2016 after a split 6-3 vote by the Flint City Council. He pointed out that Flint was listed as the second worst city to live in when he became chief.

During his nearly four-year tenure as chief, Johnson spearheaded efforts to incorporate more technology into policing the city. Flint police launched the Intelligence Operations Center and C.A.T.T. Eye Project to deploy more surveillance cameras around the city and direct officers to where crime is happening.

Johnson also dealt with critical understaffing in the police department. He frequently requested Weaver and the City Council allocate more resources to hire officers and bolster the department's ranks after years of cuts.

"It came to the point where I had 100,00 citizens in this city that we had to try to protect and I had five officers on any give shift to protect them," Johnson said. "If one of those officers called off sick or took a day off, then I had to hold somebody on overtime."

He said the city needs at least 20 to 30 more police officers on the streets, but various proposals over the years never brought the necessary funding.

"I was always told the money's not there or for whatever reason, it didn't happen," Johnson said. "It didn't happen under this administration, but we were able to survive with what we had -- and we did that. And I mean we survived strongly."

Flint police came under fire for lengthy response times over the years due to the understaffing issues. Johnson praised his department for working hard to overcome the lack of staff and resources.

"I tell you I worked with some of Flint's finest police officers and I truly mean that from the bottom of my heart," he said. "These officers in the Flint Police Department work with no resources, no financial backing. We had to actually go out and get what we needed from outside sources. We didn't have the inside resources to sustain this police department, but we did it."

Johnson is proud of reducing the city's crime rate while dealing with a lack of resources.

"And it was all off the work off the backs of the Flint city police officers out there," he said. "It wasn't a me thing, it was a we thing. They get all the credit for going out there, doing their job to the fullest. I mean, I gave the instructions, but they carried it out, you know."

Johnson hopes to build on that record of reducing crime throughout Genesee County if he gets elected sheriff, which he described as a life-long goal.

"I tell you, I have some some serious goals for what I can do in this county as a top law enforcement official, as far as crime reduction, bringing the whole community together," he said. "And I mean every community in this county. And actually we're all fighting for that one goal and that's to get the crime out of Genesee County. Not just Flint, but every city in this county."

More recently, Johnson was under investigation after he was involved in a shooting near Wood Lane and Lynn Street on the city's south side in September. Johnson witnessed gunshots after a fight outside the Ten Eleven Party Store and fired at an armed suspect fleeing the scene.

The Genesee County Sheriff's Office is still investigating Johnson's actions during that incident, but he remained on the job only performing administrative duties.

Johnson also drew criticism after residents observed him fixing Weaver For Mayor signs while driving his police department vehicle. Genesee County Clerk John Gleason said Johnson is allowed to campaign for Weaver, but only when he's off duty and not using any city assets.

No charges or violations have come from the alleged campaign violations.

Johnson thanked all of Genesee County for the support shown to the Flint Police Department during his tenure.

"To every citizen in Flint and Genesee County, I love you," he said. "I appreciate the support you have given this police department. I appreciate the encouraging words you have given this police department to stand and continue to do the job we do, even though you knew it was a hard job for them to do."