Chief Lawrence E. Harper Training Facility

Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker, police Chief Keith Porch and Mansfield attorney Roeliff Harper unveil the sign Friday afternoon officially dedicating the new Chief Lawrence E. Harper Training Facility.

MANSFIELD -- At first glance, Lawrence "Bunk" Harper might not have liked the idea of the new Mansfield Police Department Training Facility being named for him.

In 54 years of police work, being the center of attention was something the former police chief never desired.

But his son, Mansfield attorney Roeliff Harper, believed his dad would have been humbled by the honor, which took place Friday afternoon at the new site on Miller Parkway, west of Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport. 

 "These are the kinds of events he felt awkward around, because he didn't like the attention. But he would have thought about it and he would have been humbled to know his name will live long in the minds of Mansfield and Richland County. That's a beautiful thing," Roeliff Harper said after the sign with his father's name was unveiled.

Lawrence Harper

Former Mansfield police Chief Lawrence E. "Bunk" Harper

Harper became Mansfield's first black police officer in 1948, after serving in the U.S. Marines Corp during World War II, and became the city's first black police chief in 1990. He retired in 2002, the longest tenure of any MPD chief.

"What embodies my dad, and why there is such a connection (with people), is we don't see sizes, color, shapes, those things .. what we see is 'Who are you?" Harper said. "To him, actions speak louder than words."

Mayor Tim Theaker said FOP Lodge #32 suggested the name of the new $44,000 outdoor facility. A building with a classroom and storage facilities is planned for the site in phase two in 2020, the mayor said.

Retired MPD Sgt. Mike Bammam, who retired in 2008 and remains the president of FOP Lodge #32, said a better name could not have been chosen.

"I worked many years for Chief Harper and always had a great respect and love for the man," said Bammam, whose own career spanned 31 years. "He was a cop's cop. 

"He always looked out for us and me, specifically on more than one occasion. I will always remember that. For me personally, this was a great thing to see happen. It's a long time coming.

"A training facility for the police department couldn't be better named. No one will ever beat his 54-year record and i don't know who would want to these days," Bammam said.

"This (shooting) range is absolutely awesome and when they finish Phase 2 next year, it will be a perfect facility for them," Bammam said.

Current Mansfield police Chief Keith Porch, who cut the ribbon to officially "open" the site Friday, said Harper was, and is, a legend in the department.

"It's our honor to do that. There is nothing more fitting than to name this training facility after Chief Lawrence Harper. I was hired under Chief Harper and it's a name every Mansfield police officer shall never forget.

"It's a name the community should be thankful for every day for the service he provided to the City of Mansfield," Porch said.

The city's indoor shooting range in the Municipal Building was closed for lead clean-up more than two years ago. Theaker said the city has looked for other options since then, including discussions about partnering with other agencies on a range. At one point, the city had considered an indoor facility with an expected price tag of $1.7 million.

Since its own range was ordered closed, the MPD has been using other entities' firing ranges, including the Richland County Fish and Game Club's site on Poth Road and the Lexington Police Department's facility.

Ultimately, the city decided to use land it already owned and was unlikely for commercial development since it's next to a wetlands area. Theaker said the $44,000 was spent to excavate and prepare the property, which includes poles that can be used for lighting.

"There is not much chance for development here, which is why we chose it," the mayor said previously. "We didn't want to use land that had commercial appeal."

Roeliff Harper said at the end of the day, his dad would be pleased.

"My dad would have, and I believe probably is, looking down and smiling right now. For him, it wasn't just that he was a policeman for 54 years. In my family, we grew up knowing if you love it, you will never work a day in your life," Harper said.

"We knew that because my dad lived it."

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"