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Howard County police tap two commanders to fill interim chief role following Gardner retirement

With the retirement of Chief Gary Gardner at the end of the year, the Howard County police department is turning to a pair of commanders — each with nearly 30 years with the agency — to serve as chief on an interim basis.

Maj. Luther Johnson, the department’s deputy chief of administration, and Maj. Ellsworth Jones, deputy chief in operations command, will serve as acting Howard police chiefs, each for a different portion of January, according to department spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.

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Deputy Chief Luther Johnson is the acting police chief through Jan. 13.
Deputy Chief Luther Johnson is the acting police chief through Jan. 13. (Howard County Police Department)

Llewellyn said Thursday that Johnson took on the role first, officially becoming interim chief Jan. 1. He will fill the role until Jan 13.

Then, Jones will become acting chief, serving Jan. 14 through Jan. 31.

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“It is not uncommon for deputy chiefs to rotate in an acting chief status,” Llewellyn said in an email. “This allows them to maintain continuity in their own commands.”

Johnson and Jones each joined the Howard police department in 1989, Llewellyn said. They started out as police officers and rose through the ranks, having various assignments in both administrative and operations commands through the years, she said.

She said their salaries will not change during their time as interim chief.

County Executive Calvin Ball, who was elected in November and took office last month, is expected to announce a permanent police chief in the coming weeks, according to a spokesman for the executive.

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Deputy Chief Ellsworth Jones will be the acting police chief from Jan. 14 through Jan. 31.
Deputy Chief Ellsworth Jones will be the acting police chief from Jan. 14 through Jan. 31. (Howard County Police Department)

Gardner, who had served as chief for four-and-a-half years, announced his retirement three days after Ball took office. He had a nearly 35-year career with the department. He climbed through the ranks, beginning in the patrol division in 1984 to become chief in 2014. He called the decision to retire “challenging,” but said in a statement that he looked forward to spending more time with family.

“I am proud of what we have accomplished… and I know the agency will continue to build upon a foundation of excellence,” he said in the statement.

At the time of his retirement, Ball called Gardner “a pillar of great character in our community. We appreciate him and his family for their unwavering commitment to our safety and security.”

The unit addresses police calls related to mental health crises, suicides, suicide attempts and emergency petitions--instances where people are taken to a hospital by police officers if they pose a risk to themselves or someone else--according to police.

Founded in 1952, the Howard County police department has 478 sworn officers and 221 full-time civilian employees, according to Llewellyn.

Last month Columbia was ranked as the safest city in America, according to a survey conducted by the personal finance website WalletHub. The Washington-based site said it evaluated 182 cities on factors including home and community safety, natural disaster risk and financial safety.

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