LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe on Monday named Maj. Stan Witt as director of the Arkansas State Police.

Witt replaces retiring Col. JR Howard, who has headed the state’s top law enforcement agency since April 2011. Howard’s retirement becomes effective Friday, after 34 years with the state police.

Witt, 55, is a 27-year veteran of the state police, including 15 years in the Criminal Investigation Division. He has spent the last five years in state police administration, serving as commander in the agency’s Administrative Services Division where he oversaw recruitment and training of state troopers. The division also handles human resources for the agency.

Witt said being named director was a dream of his and he welcomed the challenge.

"I have some big shoes to fill," he said.

Beebe said Witt has a wealth of law-enforcement experience, and will approach the role of director with a thorough and even-handed manner that has earned him respect and admiration.

"Our new director is a trooper’s trooper," Beebe said, "somebody who has done just about everything I think there is to do in this department. Somebody who has the respect and admiration of his colleagues, somebody who has my trust and my confidence."

In the past year, Witt said, 16 troopers with 529 years of collective experience have retired and a top priority will be "restoring our ranks with qualified personnel."

Describing himself as a "laid-back, low-key, kind of guy," Witt told reporters he has no immediate plans for changes within the department and plans to meet with top ranking officers in both patrol and the criminal investigation division.

"I think anybody that has ever worn a state police uniform has thought at one time or another about about being the director of the state police, but honestly I never thought the reality would ever come true for me," he said.

Witt began his law enforcement career with the Walnut Ridge Police Department and served as Lawrence County sheriff before joining the state police in 1985.

Howard, a former U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of Arkansas and past head of the state Crime Lab, said he was looking forward to spending more time with his grandchildren in retirement.

"Looking back, I hope I am leaving this place better than when I got here," Howard said.