Lake Oswego Police Chief Don Johnson to retire
Lake Oswego Police Chief Don Johnson announced Monday that he will retire from the department on July 1.
Johnson informed City Manager Scott Lazenby of his decision on Friday and shared the news with LOPD employees Monday morning. On Tuesday, he told The Review that as he closes in on 39 years in law enforcement, "the timing is right for my wife Denise and I to look toward other adventures."
"And luckily," he said, "the Lake Oswego Police Department is positioned to continue the same great service to the community that is the hallmark of this department. I believe we've earned the community's trust that we will always be fair and honest and that we will always look out for their well-being. It is bittersweet to leave, but just a bit easier when things are going so well."
Johnson became chief in Lake Oswego in July 2011, replacing Dan Duncan (who died in May 2010, just before Duncan planned to retire and move to Baker City). Johnson had most recently served as public safety chief for the City of Sunnyvale, Calif. — the same agency where he started his career in November 1979.
"I came into law enforcement as a 21-year-old kid," he said.
As Lake Oswego's chief, Johnson now directs a department with 68.5 full-time-equivalent employees (including LOCOM personnel and 42 sworn officers) and an annual budget of about $14.4 million. During his tenure, he has worked to embody the idea of community policing and been the staunchest advocate of the LOPD's "no call too small" philosophy.
"He has also added to that the affirmation that 'we will be the most reasonable people in the room,'" Lazenby said, "which has served the department so well given the kinds of issues a police department faces these days."
That's true, Johnson said.
"Our department has developed a lens over time that demands that wherever we are, whatever we encounter, that we are 'the most reasonable people' on any scene. This means that we care for the community with respect, and that we always try to take the least intrusive approach in problem resolution," he said. "It's better policing, it's how we want to be seen, and it always produces the best results."
Johnson points to what he calls "stakes in the ground for how we want to meet the needs of the community." During his tenure, the LOPD became the first law enforcement agency in Oregon to place AEDs in every police vehicle; under his guidance, the department has also been a leader in carrying Naloxone to treat opiate overdoses.
Along with Lake Oswego Fire Chiefs Ed Wilson and Larry Goff, Johnson has led the charge for community CPR training. He has also served on the board of the Children's Center, which supports Clackamas County children and families experiencing suspected physical, sexual or emotional abuse and neglect.
"My personal philosophy has always been to take care of the kids, and take care of those who can't necessarily take care of themselves," he said. "We have opportunities to work alongside the youth in our community to help families and schools set them up for success."
Just this year, Johnson led a delegation of city and school district leaders to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles in an effort to develop a broad-based, comprehensive approach to addressing instances of racism, sexism and anti-Semitism in the city.
"I have always found the police to be in an incredible position to provide services — some non-traditional — when others cannot," he said. "I think the best thing we can do is to always see the grey. Our officers can always find creative solutions when we see situations in less than black and white."
Still, Johnson admits that police work has changed in the seven years he's been in Lake Oswego. More of the calls to the LOPD now have a mental health component, and that has forced the department to adjust the way officers respond.
"We now have a partnership with mental health professionals that allows us to call them to a scene," Johnson said. "We've found that with a little more investment of time and care on our part, we can leverage services for our citizens to get the best outcome — it's just a bit more care, but it works."
The department has also trained extensively in methods designed to de-escalate situations that might otherwise become volatile — an increasingly important part of the job in a time when so many communities are at odds with the police.
"Our officers work to protect community safety and the rights of everyone involved. Those two cornerstones define our response to any situation, but we slow things down to make sure we never contribute to the volatility of any tough call," Johnson said. "Our cops understand that time is on their side, and they use it to their advantage. Slow works better when the officers are thrust into emotionally charged situations. This shift is subtle, but powerful."
Lazenby said this week that because of Johnson's leadership, the LOPD now has a "strong bench of managers within the department who are not only skilled in the range of issues that police departments face, but are also committed the values that make the LOPD special."
He said he will seek City Council and community input on the top priorities and attributes of the department as the search for Johnson's replacement moves forward, "but I suspect that the profile for our next ideal chief will look a lot like Don Johnson."
"He has been a pleasure to work with," Lazenby said, "and one of the best police chiefs I have known."
And as for Johnson? The future includes "summer in Lake Oswego, a bit of travel and a bit of reflection," he said. "And a lot of gratitude for 39 awesome years in the job I love."