John Richardson reflects on career that spanned 31 years
By Morgan Bryce
Preventing the sale and distribution of illicit substances, as well as keeping Alabama’s governors and citizens safe, are just a few of the many roles that Opelika native John Richardson played in his 31-year career in law enforcement.
Growing up in the Toomer Court area of Opelika, Richardson said he knew at a young age what he wanted to do in life.
“I got to witness a great police department here in Opelika … I knew Mr. John Pruitt, and another officer, Lucy Kirk. I was friends with her nephew, so I was able to visit her home, and see her as a police officer, and see her equipment there … it (law enforcement) just kind of got into my blood,” Richardson said.
A two-sport athlete at Opelika High School, Richardson joined the U.S. Marine Corps late in his senior year in 1981. He signed a six-year enlistment, which required four years of active duty and two years of non-active service. He served deployments in Japan, South Korea and Norway.
Richardson joined the OPD in 1985 to work briefly as a patrolman.
With a goal of advancing his career, Richardson joined the Alcoholic Beverage Control’s statewide narcotics division as an enforcement officer in January 1988.
During the late 1980s, crack cocaine usage was rampant in Alabama, and Richardson said he worked undercover, conducting drug busts across the state.
“It was dangerous work, but nothing like these young men and women face today,” Richardson said.
The next big step in Richardson’s career came in 1999, when he joined the executive security detail for Gov. Don Siegelman and his family, serving as their bodyguard at speeches and social functions.
Richardson worked his way up the ranks, eventually being promoted to captain.
After leaving the security detail in 2003, he worked a couple of stints with the ABC board, including serving as its assistant administrator, until Gov. Robert Bentley appointed him as the Alabama Director of Public Safety in July 2014.
In 2015, Richardson helped oversee the merger of Alabama’s 13 law-enforcement agencies into a union known as the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency or ALEA.
Deeding over most of his duties to the state’s secretary of law enforcement, Richardson, aided by his assistant director, said he retained control over the highway patrol, motor safety carrier and marine patrol divisions.
After two years as director, Richardson retired Jan. 1, citing the need for new blood and a fresh direction.
“I’m 53, and I’d like to think that’s still young … and hopefully I’m still marketable to do something different. I got to see a lot, and met a lot of great people, and I think I made a difference,” Richardson said. “It’s a very rewarding career from day one … and I can’t think of a day that I did not enjoy going to work.”
Mayor Gary Fuller and the Opelika City Council recognized Richardson upon his retirement at a recent meeting.
Now, semi-retired and living in Montgomery with his wife DeWanda, Richardson said he is looking for his next career, but will never forget the importance of the one he left and how crucial a role it plays in today’s world.
“Every single day, all across the country, you got men and women that react in a very heroic way and they do it just because it’s the right thing to do. They take their oath very seriously,” Richardson said. “It’s still a good career, regardless of what you may hear. It’s a calling that’s very rewarding, and it’s a calling worth following.”