Popular Essex police captain to run precinct Officer reassigned to stay after residents fight move

July 17, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

After serving most of his police career in Essex, Capt. Jim Johnson had cleaned out his office and was headed for a prestigious new assignment -- commander of the Baltimore County police training academy.

He faced one barrier, however. Residents didn't want him to leave.

"Working Essex, where we have lots of problems, wasn't a job for Captain Johnson, it was his life," says Susan Widerman, president of the Walnut Grove Neighborhood Association. "If he went, we would have felt kind of helpless."

Pressure from area residents helped to derail the new assignment, and on Monday, Johnson will be honored at the Police Athletic League center on Back River Neck Road by a community happy that the quiet, 38-year-old officer has been given command of the Essex police precinct.

While reorganizing his department in June, Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence Sheridan initially assigned Johnson to run the academy. Maj. Thomas Canning was scheduled to be the precinct's new commander.

But only days after the chief's decision was made public, residents and public officials registered their protests, some meeting with Sheridan in his office.

"I had concerns about second-guessing myself, but it was clear Captain Johnson was a popular figure on the east side and he had done a good job," Sheridan said. So the chief named Johnson to head the precinct and appointed Canning to be the permanent administrative hearing board chairman at headquarters in Towson.

"Captain Johnson would have done well at the academy; he's an attribute anywhere," the chief said.

For his part, Johnson respects Sheridan for "having the ability to change his mind, to show flexibility. Going to the academy might have meant different things for my career, but the support from the community was uplifting to me, a real sign that my work counted."

Mary Ann Rigopoulos, principal at Deep Creek Elementary School, was one of several community leaders who met with Sheridan to persuade the chief to keep Johnson in Essex.

"The key with Captain Johnson is that he was born in Essex, his roots are here and he genuinely cares," Rigopoulos said. "And to Chief Sheridan's credit, he wasn't a bureaucrat who refused to see another side to an issue."

Johnson, an 18-year veteran of the department, said commanding one of the busiest precincts in the county "will be exciting because of the balance needed between law enforcement and social issues. "

The father of four, Johnson coaches amateur sports in eastern Baltimore County and teaches criminal justice at Essex Community College.

Pub Date: 7/17/96

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