JPD assistant chief brings decades of experience to renewed position
When John Johnson first came to Jamestown in 1977, he had no intention of being a police officer.
Johnson said the department hasn’t had an assistant chief in so long that it’s kind of a path not taken. “The chief will have to set some guidelines and goals,” he said.
Edinger said the position was eliminated under a former police chief and he wanted to re-establish the assistant chief so there could be designated second-in-command while Edinger is away. Edinger said he will now be able to participate on state level committees and task forces related to law enforcement issues.
Edinger said there were four or five people who applied for the position. He said he chose Johnson because of his years of experience with the JPD and that Johnson is progressive and well-liked by the officers.
“We (Johnson and Edinger) have worked well together over the 20 years I’ve been here, so he was a natural choice,” Edinger said.
Coming to North Dakota
Johnson, originally from Naugatuck, Conn., served in the U.S. Army from 1972 to late 1975. He was trained as an air traffic controller and served most of his time in Europe. He said he made some good friends while in the military, and it was one of his friends who encouraged him to come out to visit North Dakota.
Johnson came out to visit in 1977 and found that he liked the wide-open spaces of North Dakota. He said he liked North Dakota’s small towns, and the fact that the small towns weren’t stacked one right after another like in Connecticut.
“I like the lifestyle of North Dakota,” he said.
Johnson applied for a police officer position in Jamestown after his friend, an officer already working for the JPD, encouraged him to do so.
“I never had intentions of being a policeman,” he said. “That was not where my interests lied at the time.”
After being hired and going through one of the state’s police academies, Johnson said he found a job working for Burlington Northern railroad as a conductor/brakeman. He took the job because it paid better than the city police officer position.
“I found the job quite boring,” Johnson said.
He returned to the JPD in 1983 and has been there ever since.
Being a police officer
Johnson said while he didn’t initially think of himself as a law enforcement officer, he took to the job after returning to it in 1983.
“Being a police officer, it’s exciting, it’s something new every day, it’s something new hour-to-hour,” he said.
In the early 1990s Johnson served on the regional drug task force. He said he enjoyed the work as he was able to do a lot of investigations, a part of the job he enjoys.
These days, Johnson said the most exciting part of the job for him is working with new officers.
“The young guys, the new guys coming in, they are better trained, have a better foundation that they come to us with,” he said.
When Johnson was hired he said the department basically took guys in from off the streets, hired them, then sent them to a police academy for training.
“Now, you have to have gone to the academy before you get hired,” he said.
The big challenges facing the department, according to Johnson, are drug and alcohol use and retaining officers. Illegal drugs, especially methamphetamine, and alcohol contribute to most of the criminal activity in the Jamestown area, he said.
“Just about every call we go on at night is either drug or alcohol related,” he said.
Keeping good, experienced police officers in Jamestown is the other major challenge he and Edinger face. Johnson said the officers who are moving on aren’t going out and getting jobs in the oil fields, but they are finding jobs with other law enforcement agencies.
“We have to find a way to keep them,” he said.
Johnson and his wife, Susan, the director of nursing at Ave Maria Village, enjoy living in Jamestown. They have a daughter and son-in-law, who manage retail stores and live in Dickinson, N.D., and a son who works as a driller on an oil rig in the Oil Patch. Their son lives in Fargo, and commutes to his job out west.
“He makes more than enough to live out west, but there isn’t a place out there that is worth the money they are asking for,” he said.
Johnson said he is 58 years old and is too young to retire.
“I feel good about coming to work. I enjoy working with the young guys,” he said. At this point they can probably teach me more than I can teach them.”
Sun reporter Chris Olson can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org