WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — Warner Robins' police chief says he wasn't forced out of his job.
He says it was just time to go.
Chief John Wagner announced his retirement Thursday.
For many, Warner Robins police chief's retirement announcement came as a surprise, but he says he has been planning to retire for the last 12 months.
Police Chief John Wagner says he's retiring October 2, after three years as chief.
"It's time. It's time for somebody else to take the reins," Wagner said.
Wagner started with the department in 1991 as a college intern.
"I have given my heart and soul and life to the City of Warner Robins with no regrets. I've done all I can for the Warner Robins Police Department. I've done all I can for the City of Warner Robins and the citizens," Wagner said.
When asked if he was pushed out, given an ultimatum, or asked to leave, Wagner said no.
"Nope, this is all my idea. This was all my decision. This is something that has been coming for a while. I've policed for 31 years. I have been a police chief for three. I have seen many things. I have experienced many things. I have been given many, many opportunities. I have seen the best in life and the worst in life; and it's time. There's been no pressures for me to leave. There's been no pressures, phone calls saying, 'Hey, you need to look out,' none at all. This is John Wagner. This is John Wagner's decision. This is my timetable. This is my timetable; and I am ready to go," Wagner said.
I asked, "Why two weeks?"
"I'm ready. I am ready. Whether two weeks or two years, it's not going to make a difference. I have done all I can and I have placed myself in the position where I can leave. It goes back to being connected. I am connected to a telephone, whether I am working, whether I am home, or whether I am on vacation and have been out of the county and have been in touch with this department. It's time to disconnect from that," Wagner said.
This comes as the department's Assistant Police Chief Chris Rooks also took on an additional role as interim general administrator.
Mayor LaRhonda Patrick appointed him September 6.
"His movement has nothing to do with my decision by any means. Again, this is all me. This was not anybody else," Wagner said.
Wagner replaced Chief Brett Evans in 2019.
Evans and others told us then that the department staffing problems were a factor in his stepping down, but new numbers from the city show the department's actually lost ground since Wagner took over.
According to our open records request:
In August of 2019, the city was budgeted for 74 officers, but was 20 short.
Now, as Wagner leaves, they're budgeted for 79 officers, but need 27 more.
They have two fewer officers than when Wagner took over.
Wagner says his department, like most others, has struggled to hire and keep officers.
"To be honest with you, I don't know if we've ever in my entire career have had the correct amount of officers that the city really needs," Wagner said.
Wagner says his decision shocked Mayor LaRhonda Patrick.
13WMAZ also reached out to council members.
Council member Kevin Lashley says he found out about it on the news.
Lashley says he wishes Wagner would stay on a bit longer.
"I went to Northside. I am in this area. This is a place where I have grown up and I've taken it very personal about the things that go on in the City of Warner Robins, specifically crime. I hold on to that. I have always cared. Sometimes those things keep you up at night, but I have been, as Police Chief, but even before that I have been connected to the City of Warner Robins, 24 hours a day, 7-days a week, 365 days of the year. Many sacrifices have been made, sacrifices that my family have made. My wife, she has been a steady rock for me from day one of starting at the police department. My son, my family, my parents, have always been very supportive, have always been there. You have to have really, really good support system to get through 31 years of law enforcement," Wagner said.
Wagner took over in 2019 after Brett Evans stepped down.
"Thank you to all the citizens of Warner Robins who have supported me, who have supported this department. I ask you to please continue to support. These men and women need it, they really do," Wagner said.
13WMAZ asked Mayor LaRhonda Patrick who will fill in as interim chief and her timeline for filling the job full time.
Her office released a statement saying, "I am thankful to Chief Wagner for his many years of leadership and dedication to the Warner Robins Police Department and wish him the very best as he enters this next chapter. We are working through the next steps."
Wagner says the Warner Robins Police Department will continue to have his support.
He also says, he'll support the next person in the position and help them transition into their new role.