Chief has been with GPD since 1985

Published 4:16 pm Monday, March 15, 2010

In college, Lonzo Ingram took an aptitude test to determine where he was most likely to succeed. His top choice was law enforcement.

Ingram then took that information into the Ozark Police Department, told the old police chief he wanted to apply for a job, and was swore at for his troubles. The old chief sputtered and coughed and raised a fit and said he couldn’t figure out for the life of him why anyone would want to be a police officer.

A few weeks later, that old chief called Ingram and offered him job.

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Being a police officer in the 1970s was just as difficult as it is now, if not more so, said Ingram.

“You worked six days a week, no insurance, no overtime,” Ingram said. “I hear officers today talking about how tough it is and I think, ‘you should have seen it back then.'”

From there, Ingram rose up the ranks to become commander of the department’s field operations, then to Daleville as its director of public safety, and to Greenville in 1985 as its police chief.

25 years later, Ingram is still at his desk as the city’s top law enforcement official.

“Some of the kids that’s grown up in this town, I’m the only police chief they’ve ever known,” said Ingram.

Ingram left Daleville because he said the city was “landlocked.” The presence of Fort Rucker left the small town of a few thousand people little room for growth, said Ingram. What he saw in the Camellia City was potential.

“My wife and I came over and looked around,” he said. “What I liked about it was that Greenville had an Interstate running through it. And you also had the close proximity to Montgomery.”

In Greenville, he said, he was also able to focus entirely on the police department. As director of public safety in Daleville, Ingram was responsible for overseeing the city’s paramedics and fire department. He kept fire gear in the back of the trunk of his car, he said.

“You always had to know where the fire trucks were going because you were, likely, going to have to go there as well,” said Ingram. “Here, I can say, ‘there goes the fire truck.'”

Ingram said he inherited a police department that needed a vision. There had been frequent administrative turnover prior to his arrival so the first step involved getting city officials to buy in to what he was trying to accomplish with the police department. Like his predecessors, some thought Ingram would stay in Greenville for a few years and then move on.

It took time for that mentality to change, said Ingram, especially among those outside of City Hall.

“I remember walking into a gas station and girl said, ‘oh, you’re the new police chief,'” he recalled. “I said, ‘well, I’m not too new, I’ve been here five years,’ and she said, ‘no, you’re still the new police chief.'”

His first steps involved re-forming the department’s investigative division and replacing outdated police cars.

“We had about six black and whites with over 300,000 miles on them,” he said.

Issues then began to arise in the city’s schools. Fights and rumors of guns on school campuses caused a panic among parents, so Ingram worked with city officials to place a police officer inside both Greenville High School and Greenville Middle School. Ingram said people were speculative of what one lone officer at a school could do, but he knew the program would be a success its first day.

Former policeman Ezell Powell was the first School Resource Officer for GHS.

“Everyone knows how big Ezell is,” said Ingram. “He stood out in the hall when they changed classes and everything was nice and orderly. The resource officers work because they get to know the children and know their families. It’s been a good thing.”

The 1990s also brought two cases that still haunt Ingram, he said. The first was when one of his officers, Gary Wayne Heath, was shot and killed at a convenience store.

Heath was the first officer Ingram had ever lost in the line of duty.

“It stays with me and will all my life,” said Ingram. “I pass the convenience store where he was killed every day.”

The second was when a Greenville High School student, Michael Mora, was murdered in 1998. Two men killed Mora and dumped his body in a heavily wooded area in Lowndes County after robbing him.

“He was murdered, basically, for nothing,” said Ingram.

Ingram said the job of a police officer has evolved substantially since he first became involved in law enforcement. He said laws enacted by the state legislature have made the job more involved in regards to patrolling city and state roads.

One example is how it’s become police responsibility to ensure car tags are up-to-date.

“When I was first a police officer the chief would tell me if the Alabama Department of Revenue wants to enforce that, then they need to come out and write tickets for it,” said Ingram. “That’s not the case now.”

Ingram could retire, but said he has no plans in doing so.

Just yet.

“If I retired now, it would feel like I’m running out on everyone,” he said, referring to the economic conditions. “We’ve got a new building we need to get moved into, and there’s still a lot of things we want to accomplish.”