Police Chief Paul E. Johnson has officially declared his intention to retire from Harvard's top police post, Vice President and General Counsel Margaret H. Marshall said in an interview this week.
Johnson, 65, may leave the force as early as May of this year, but will stay on until a successor is found, according to Marshall, who is the police chief's immediate superior.
The chief is on vacation until next week and could not be reached for comment.
The end of Johnson's 12-year tenure comes as no surprise to most observers in the department; most police and security guards interviewed yesterday said they had suspected he would leave by the end of the academic year.
Marshall refused to say when Johnson told her of his plans to retire.
It is likely, however, that the chief formally approached her sometime in the past month.
Provost Albert Carnesale, who was then serving as acting president, said in late January that Johnson had not formally articulated any retirement plans.
The search for Johnson's successor is underway. A committee has already initiated what Marshall indicated would be a nationwide search.
Still, the position has not been advertised in the Harvard Gazette, and no formal announcement of Johnson's retirement has been made, Marshall said.
The general counsel refused to comment on any specific candidates for the post, including Harvard Lt. Lawrence J. Murphy and Lt. John F. Rooney, both of whom are rumored to be in active pursuit of the job.
"I think we have some superb members of the police department, but I will not comment on any candidates," she said.
Johnson has been involved in police work for almost four decades.
Before coming to Harvard, Johnson served as a deputy superintendent in Boston's Police Force.
In 1983, Johnson applied for the top post in Harvard's police force and made an instant impression.
"A lot of people with more command experience and higher rank...applied for the job at Harvard," said Boston Lt. Detective Richard C. Cox in a 1993 interview. "I happen to be privy to the fact that after Paul's interview at Harvard, they basically stopped looking."
But Johnson's honeymoon with Harvard didn't last long. Several months after he assumed the post, he faced thefirst in what was to be a long string ofaccusations against members of his force forracial harassment.
Among the lowlights of his tenure were a 1985incident in which police apprehended students whowere protesting a South African speaker in LowellHouse.
Students filed 19 complaints of policebrutality; not a single one was found by thepolice and the administration to have any merit.
Four years later, Harvard police stopped ashuttle bus and wrongly accused two Black studentsof shoplifting. The incident sparked ademonstration by 250 faculty, administrators andstudents.
And over the past three years, 11 current orformer security guards have come forward withcharges of racial discrimination within the unit.
The chief has responded to most of the chargesby asking how he, as a Black man, could tolerateracism in his department.
Johnson's retirement announcement has drawn amixed reaction.
"It's no secret that most of us thought he wasa lousy chief, but I think most people havenothing but good wishes to give him as heretires," one veteran sergeant said this week. "Hehad a long career in policing, doing particularlygood work for Boston [police] during 27 yearsthere."
Other underlings, however, were less criticalof Johnson's time at Harvard.
"It's a shame to see him go; he's a great guy,"said security guard Ron F. Matthews. "He's done alot for the University, even though some peoplemight not think so."
Most top Harvard cops, including Rooney andMurphy, were busy dealing with yesterday'sshootings in the Square and could not be reachedfor comment about Johnson's retirement