Bob Johnston was appointed Wednesday as chief of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. ((CBC))

The Newfoundland and Labrador government tapped a veteran investigator Wednesday to lead the provincial police force.

Bob Johnston, who was appointed chief of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, said his priorities will include a vigilant check on drug-related crime, particularly as the St. John's area becomes accustomed to riches from the offshore oil industry.

"When there's more disposable income, there's a market for illegal business," he told reporters.

Johnston, who is currently the deputy chief of the RNC, has been responsible for the force's criminal investigations, including supervision of investigations into hard drugs.

Johnston takes over as chief on May 1. He succeeds Joe Browne, who last month announced his plans to retire from the RNC.

In a statement, Premier Danny Williams lauded Johnston for a 30-year policing career.

"Mr. Johnston has played a significant role in the recent revival of the force and I am confident his extensive experience will ensure the RNC continues on its current path which has made it a leader in policing in North America," Williams said.

Johnston already has a high profile within the RNC, often speaking for the force about major investigations, including the recent Razorback drug bust.

Johnston takes charge of the RNC, which polices the St. John's area, Corner Brook and western Labrador, during a time of expansion and change.

In the last six years, the government has added more than 80 officers to the force, and more than doubled the Constabulary's budget, from about $20 million to just over $46 million.

Outgoing chief Browne has been credited with implementing more professional practices in the force, particularly in the wake of the 2006 report of the Lamer inquiry, which was deeply critical of the criminal justice system.

Browne applauded Johnston's appointment.

"Bob is absolutely the right guy for the job," Browne said.

"He's my right-hand man for the whole time I've been chief."