Yankton Police Chief John Harris will be leaving the Yankton Police Department (YPD) this summer.
On Friday, during a press briefing previewing next week’s City Commission meeting, Yankton City Manager Amy Leon announced that Harris had submitted his retirement papers and will be stepping down from the position July 9.
Harris took on the role of interim Police Chief in the summer of 2018 after the departure of Brian Paulsen, and, by August, was made full-time.
At the time, Harris had already retired from law enforcement before and stated he was looking at a two-year window with the YPD.
“This is not a new retirement position for me to go into,” he said in 2018. “It’s to build the department up. I think it’s going to take a little bit of time to get the people internally to the point where they can really take over and change the focus and direction of the police department.”
On Friday, he told the Press & Dakotan that he believes he has accomplished this mission.
“I’ll have completed 47 years of law enforcement and it’s probably time,” he said. “The other thing is that I told the city manager that I’d prepare the internal candidates so that they could be competitive in a process, and I think they’re ready.”
Leon said it was well known that Harris wouldn’t be around in the position long term, but that the COVID-19 pandemic may have lengthened his stay in Yankton.
“John came here as a temporary post, decided to stay a little bit longer and then the pandemic hit,” she said. “He and I both thought it was good not to have a lot of change during (the pandemic). I knew John from back in the day, so I knew what his personal life plans are and how he wants to spend his time. He’s not looking to do this long-term anymore, so we appreciate the time he’s spent here and helped us out and we’ll do a proper sendoff.”
Harris has always had high praise for the Yankton Police Department, and this belief has not wavered.
“Like I’ve said numerous times, it’s probably one of the — person for person — best police departments in the country,” he said. “We can always do things better, but generally speaking, we’ve got a really great department.”
That praise also extends to the community as a whole.
“It’s good to work in a community that supports the police department,” he said. “There’s some communities where that doesn’t happen.”
Harris also said he’s rarely seen a city so well administered.
“It’s been phenomenal working with the other department heads here,” he said. “I think our city manager has put together a really solid team for the city in general, not just the (police department).”
Leon said Harris came to town at exactly the right time.
“He’s a super guy,” Leon said. “He’s a person that the community needed at the time when we needed him. We have great leadership in our department and we’ll find another great person.”
As for his own future, Harris said his plans from July 9 onward likely take him back to the west.
“I grew up in southeastern Wyoming and I’ll probably buy a place out there, go out there for the summer and fall, and then in the winter time, we’ll go down to our house in Tucson.”
Leon said the city is aiming to hire a new police chief sometime in May or June.
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