The right man for Essex Jim Johnson: A policeman who restores faith and helps revive a troubled community.

July 18, 1996

AMID stories of state police supervisors groping female colleagues and of county patrolmen throwing the book at fathers speeding to get care for their sick children, one's ability to tell the good guys from the bad can seem disturbingly difficult.

Thanks, then, is due the likes of Baltimore County Police Capt. Jim Johnson for restoring a little faith to the system.

James W. Johnson is a square-jawed lawman who from the looks of his department mug shot would need more than your average "knock, knock" joke to crack his no-nonsense visage. Police Chief Terrence Sheridan considered him to run the police academy. But community leaders in Essex balked at losing him. To the chief's credit, he heard the concerns and elevated Captain Johnson to head the Essex precinct.

"Working Essex, where we have lots of problems, wasn't a job for Captain Johnson, it was his life. If he went, we would have felt kind of helpless," a neighborhood association leader told Sun reporter Joe Nawrozki.

Indeed, invigorating the Essex area has been a preoccupation for County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger. The communities of eastern Baltimore County, just a trotline's toss from the finger tributaries of Chesapeake Bay, were long synonomous with the good life for middle-class families. "It was," recalled Captain Johnson, a native, "the place to be." But the fading of major employers, such as Martin-Marietta and Bethlehem Steel, drained job security from the area. Into the void rushed crime and hopelessness. At 2 1/2 narcotics arrests a day, no Baltimore County community has a greater drug problem than Essex.

In the past year, a community center has been set up in an impoverished apartment complex to offer child care, medical aid, financial counseling and policing. Captain Johnson founded the non-profit corporation that launched the facility. It was among nine local law enforcement initiatives recently cited by the National Association of Counties.

Mr. Ruppersberger, the governor and others who are emphasizing the need to revive our older, deteriorating urban and suburban neighborhoods require the committment of people the field, such as Captain Johnson. If they succeed, the benefits will ripple far beyond stressed communities like Essex.

Pub Date: 7/18/96

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