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New park named for city police lieutenant

Jeremy Lazarus | 10/15/2015, 9:14 a.m.
A new city park is being named for the late Richmond Police Lt. Ozell Johnson, a pioneer in community policing ...

A new city park is being named for the late Richmond Police Lt. Ozell Johnson, a pioneer in community policing in the city.

City Council voted unanimously Sept. 28 to designate city-owned property at 241 E. Ladies Mile Road in the Providence Park neighborhood in North Side as a park and name it for Lt. Johnson.

“As a lifelong city resident, I’m very excited about this honor being bestowed on my late father,” said Richmond Police Maj. Odetta Johnson.

Maj. Johnson was the first African-American woman to reach that rank in the city Police Department and currently serves as chief of staff to Chief Alfred Durham.

Also excited are his widow, Bertha L. Johnson, 76, a retired juvenile corrections officer, and his other daughter, Tyroshia J. Fisher, a city employee.

This is the first community park in Richmond to be named for a police officer, according to City Councilman Chris A. Hilbert, 3rd District, who spearheaded the ordinance.

Mr. Hilbert said the community came to him to honor Lt. Johnson, whose impact is still being felt 33 years after he died in his sleep in 1982 at age 45.

Lt. Johnson left his mark with his work in crime prevention, according to the department.

Among other things, he organized the first Neighborhood Watch programs in North Side and the East End, the department noted.

Popular with citizens, the pipe-smoking officer created TV spots on crime prevention and wrote a weekly column on the topic in the former Afro-American newspaper.

He also often lectured on crime prevention at community colleges and universities to students studying criminal justice. He died just a day before he was due in Washington to help organize a youth crime prevention program.

“So many people have told me how my father touched their lives,” said Maj. Johnson, who plans to retire Dec. 1 after 25 years of service.

Given a virtually free hand by then Police Chief Frank S. Duling Jr., “my father helped change the perception of policing and won the heart of his community, receiving local, state and national recognition for his work,” she said.

“He truly believed policing needed to go beyond arrests. In his view, law enforcement needed to include an intentional interest in the well-being of the community.”

Born in North Carolina, Lt. Johnson came to Richmond in 1957 after serving in the Army.

He joined the Richmond department in 1965 at a time when black officers faced high hurdles to advancement. While on the force, he went back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Virginia Union University.

He was promoted to sergeant after 11 years on the force and to lieutenant in 1978.

Mr. Hilbert said that the date for the park to be dedicated is still being set.

This is the second small park Mr. Hilbert has helped create this year. In late June, he won approval for a new park honoring the late Walter Gaines Jr., the unofficial “mayor” of Providence Park. That park is located at Woodrow and Lamb avenues.

In other business Sept. 28, council authorized the city to accept $280,000 in state funds to be used to develop the Bellemeade Park Pedestrian Trail and Bridge near the new Oak Grove Elementary School on South Side.

The new funding will be used to support the work that volunteers have begun to beautify the area and install a walking trail.

Also, council approved relocating the voting place for Precinct 606 in Highland Park from Ann Hardy Park to the Hotchkiss Community Center on Brookland Park Boulevard

The move comes as the city prepares to begin its planned improvements to the park at Carolina Avenue and Milton Street. Those improvements are to include new landscaping renovation of the community center and installation of a splash fountain.

The council also removed the tax scofflaw label from the popular Hardywood Park Craft Brewery on Ownby Lane in North Side. The governing body approved a settlement allowing Hardywood to pay $61,118 to cover several years of uncollected meals taxes.