(Photo by Leonna Essner, Staff)
CHARLESTON -- When Paul Johnson was appointed as Charleston Department of Public Safety director last year, one of his first priorities was to put the community back into community oriented policing.
"When you've got your community backing you, nine times out of 10, you're going to get crimes solved quicker," Johnson said.
Johnson began as interim director in May 2002 and was officially appointed by the city council Aug. 23, 2002.
Thus, the year-long journey of restoring trust in both the DPS officers and the people they serve began. And when the community can count on their law enforcers, the law enforcers can then, in return, count on their community, Johnson explained.
"If people in the community know something, they'll call now," Johnson said. "More people have been calling with tips than before."
For example, when the shooting in Charleston occurred May 24, several eye witnesses called in tips afterward.
"Some may have been anonymous calls, but at least people were calling to help out," Johnson pointed out.
Due to help from the community, the Charleston DPS arrested two people in conjunction with the May 24 shooting and expect to arrest two more suspects, Johnson said.
And although he doesn't have exact numbers, Johnson said statistically, the crime rate has dropped in Charleston over the last year.
"The main crimes Charleston sees are burglaries, larceny, motor vehicle theft, domestic violence and property damage," Johnson said.
Born and raised in Scott County, Johnson has worked in law enforcement since 1993. He began working as a detective for the Charleston DPS in January 2000, but he and his family only recently moved to Charleston.
As the director of Charleston DPS, Johnson not only covers the police aspect of being DPS chief, but also the fire aspect. He's on site at every fire in the city and receives calls at all times of the day so his family is use to his busy schedule, he said.
"They understand," Johnson shrugged.
Johnson's life has become more stressful, but he deals with it, he said.
"I've tried to surround myself with good personnel -- and they take a lot of the work off of me," Johnson admitted.
Speaking of personnel, Johnson said another of his goals is to get the department up to full staff. He added that the problem is finding people who want to make Charleston their home.
"We've lost some of the department staff and replaced them with new officers," Johnson explained.
Currently the Charleston DPS is 93 percent staffed, and Johnson said he feels staffing will be at 100 percent by July 1. According to Johnson's staff, the department is a more pleasant place to work and officers are getting to get out and do police work since Johnson has been in charge.
Other plans for the Charleston DPS this summer include concentrating on curfew and open container violations and night patrolling of all federal housing, Johnson said.
"We'll have someone patrolling the housing authority from 11 to 8," Johnson said.
Implementing a Neighborhood Watch program is currently in the works, Johnson added. "We finally have the funding to get it started. We'll provide neighbors with radios that are like cell phones but can only call 911," he explained.
Restoring and improving old programs, such as community orienting policing, school resource officer and Drug Education For Youth are among the list of the department's other accomplishments for 2002.
Citizens have been very supportive, Johnson said. "I've had people tell me how nice our officers were to them or how they've helped," he said.
The door is always open -- citizens are welcome to come in and share their thoughts -- or complaints -- with Johnson anytime. Although Johnson may be hard to catch sometimes, when he's in, he's ready to talk to anyone, he said.
Johnson said he's grateful to the city manager and city council for giving him the opportunity to serve as DPS chief. He added that he and his officers are also thankful to the citizens of Charleston for regaining faith in the department.
According to Johnson, things can only get better from here because having the community behind the department is the greatest strength they can have.
Johnson said: "I wanted to bring back the community, and I believe that's a goal we've accomplished."