Roanoke police Chief Tim Jones will step down Feb. 1 after nearly four decades at the department.

Jones sent City Manager Bob Cowell a notice on Tuesday of his intent to retire, the city announced Thursday. The city soon will begin a national search for a new police chief.

Jones, 59, joined the Roanoke Police Department in February 1981 after working for a few months at the Roanoke Sheriff’s Office. He took the helm as chief in July 2016 after the retirement of then-Chief Chris Perkins.

“There’s big shoes to be filled,” Roanoke County police Chief Howard Hall said Thursday. “Chief Jones has done an exceptional job for Roanoke City for a very long time, particularly the last three years as chief.”

While visible in Roanoke at National Night Out and gun violence events, Jones generally shied away from the spotlight as chief and was perceived positively by some in the department as a cop’s cop.

More recently, however, Jones’ tenure as chief had been rocky. He faced calls for his resignation for the way he talked about rape cases and for a comment about rap videos that some interpreted as racist.

Drug addiction services were also a flash point in Jones’ administration. After more than a year of resistance, Jones in March gave his blessing for a nonprofit to establish a syringe exchange service, which research has shown helps usher those with addiction toward treatment and reduces the spread of infectious diseases. His earlier public stance on that issue rankled some in city government and the community.

Soon after becoming chief, Jones saw the community roll out the Perkins-championed Hope Initiative, which connects people with addiction to treatment.

“Let this valley stand together and help those who are suffering from addiction of any type,” Jones said at the announcement of the program. “This program is designed to do two things: get individuals the treatment they need and enhance the quality of life here in the Roanoke Valley.”

Mayor Sherman Lea praised Jones, citing his work with the chief on the mayor’s outdoor basketball league, which was created in 2015 to improve relations between youth and police.

“He was a chief that brought ideas to the table,” Lea said Thursday. “I think he set a good tone, and I would hope that someone would come in and continue the good things he did.”

In a statement issued Thursday, Jones said it had been a privilege to serve as chief and asked the community to continue supporting the department.

Cowell said Jones’ lengthy service, as opposed to any recent public controversies, prompted the chief’s retirement announcement.

“The term he used with me was, it’s time for somebody else with a little more gas in the tank to come in here and take over,” Cowell said. “So I think really that’s what precipitated it.”

Cowell said he expects in the next few weeks to refine details of a search, which will involve an executive search firm and extensive community input. The ideal candidate will combine deep law enforcement experience and familiarity with 21st-century policing and diverse communities, he said.

The next chief could come from outside the department, or from within, the city manager said. At the start of 2019, Jones was paid an annual salary of about $127,000.

Rising through the ranks in the 1990s, Jones became integral to the department’s push toward community policing, then in vogue across the country. As a lieutenant, he led the department’s Community Oriented Policing Effort, or COPE, which some credited with reducing crime and improving relations between police and residents.

COPE wasn’t universally embraced. Before Jones’ leadership, a 1996 newspaper article about such policing efforts in the Hurt Park neighborhood quoted several residents who said officers focused on aggressive drug busts at the expense of community-building.

“Many people think calling us is annoying,” Jones said in a 2002 newspaper article, emphasizing the importance of neighborhood watch groups. “But it’s our job to respond to them. It’s better to have a thousand eyes out there than five.”

A 1988 Roanoke World-News article noted that Jones, then a crime analysis officer, had been named officer of the month three times.

“He developed the crime analysis program, helped plan a comprehensive patrol system, and organized data and training for the new emergency dispatching system,” the article said. In the early 1980s, Jones worked undercover crack cocaine buys.

A 1991 article recounted a time Jones comforted a teenager whose friend had just been killed in a car crash.

“I was a police officer, yes,” Jones was quoted as saying. “But I was a fellow human being. I was in a position to take away some of this kid’s suffering.”

The son of a U.S. Navy officer, Jones moved often during his childhood. He has said William Fleming High School, from which he was graduated in 1977, was the first school he attended more than two years in a row. He later obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice from Radford University.

Jones has taught criminal justice classes at Virginia Western Community College and serves as a lay preacher at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Roanoke.

After serving as a sergeant, lieutenant and captain, Jones became a deputy chief in 2006. He headed the department’s patrol and community response divisions before being promoted in 2016 to lead the department.

“Many times, unfortunately, when our teenagers and youth see us, it’s at some unfortunate circumstance where police have been called to intervene,” Jones said at his announcement ceremony as chief in 2016. “We have to get past that so our next generation of young people understand that police are citizens also; they just are citizens that have taken on the obligation of being guardians of the community.”

As chief guardian, Jones faced scrutiny.

Roanoke Indivisible, a progressive group that previously had called for Jones’ ouster, put out a statement Thursday welcoming his announcement.

“We objected not to his off-the-cuff remarks, but instead to his documented record of relying on his own out of touch judgement, instead of expert opinion and best practices, when it came to the central public safety issues affecting our city today, including sexual assault and harassment, gun violence and safety, responding to the opioid epidemic, and racial justice,” the group said in a statement.

Earlier this year, after submitting a public apology for the way he characterized rape cases at a February city council meeting — “All too many young women put themselves at risk when alcohol and social behavior goes bad,” he said at the time — Jones told his supporters in emails to expect his retirement.

In a March interview, Jones said that the emails reflected his frustration at the time, but that his relationship with the city had mended.

“I have a few projects with the organization that I want to see through,” Jones said then. “I’ve been at this 38 years so ... at some point it will be time for me to seek other endeavors and someone else go in to pick up where we are and move the agency continuously forward.”

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