In Memoriam: Sergeant Derek Johnson, Draper, Utah P.D. –
End of Watch, September 1, 2013
By Ken K. Gourdin
It appears that Draper P.D.’s Sergeant Derek Johnson was ambushed and shot dead while on routine patrol when he checked on a vehicle which was parked at an odd angle. Sergeant Johnson had eight years of service, and was, by all accounts, an exemplary officer.
As I have often said in the past, I have been fortunate enough that I don’t know what it’s like to lose a loved one in the line of duty. As the son of a career law enforcement officer who spent 43 years on the job, I do, however, know what it’s like to pray for a loved one’s safe return when he left for work each morning, afternoon, or night.
None of us knows how long we have left, or how or when our life might end. All we can do, in the immortal words of Colonel Sherman T. Potter of M*A*S*H, is “hit what’s pitched”; do our best to make the most of whatever time we have left—whether it’s decades, years, months, or days; and do our best to ensure that we die with as few regrets as possible. There’s a good deal of cynicism in law enforcement, and not without good reason. As I’ve written on the blog before, it’s hard to work very long in law enforcement without beginning to feel as though there are only two kinds of people in the world: cops—and everyone else.
It’s easy to give in to the feeling that no one appreciates you; that everyone believes if you take a well-earned and much needed break after doing something few other people would be caught dead doing, you’re a loafer; that if you pull someone over and issue a traffic citation, those you stop think you do so not because you believe in promoting safety on the roadways by enforcing even “minor” traffic laws, but, rather, simply because you “don’t have anything better to do.”; that everyone you encounter thinks that officers are only there when we don’t need them (in our rear-view mirrors, lights flashing)—yet they’re never there when we do; that everyone believes you’re overpaid and underworked, rather than the other way around; that everyone has given in to the stereotype of law enforcement officers as “fat,” “lazy,” “donut-scarfing” idiots; and that everyone thinks he knows the traffic and criminal codes better than you do, even after you’ve spent months in the academy, years on the job, and dozens of hours each year in required in-service training. (And while maintaining fitness is important, few people can understand what havoc eating while most everyone else is sleeping—and vice-versa—wreaks on an officer’s metabolism.)
Yet in all the accounts I’ve read of him from those who knew him best, even after eight years on the job, Sergeant Johnson managed to avoid becoming afflicted with the various forms of cynicism I describe above. However great the temptation to succumb to that cynicism, the best way to honor the memory of the Sergeant Johnsons of the world is to follow their example: to strive to treat everyone with respect (even when, and in fact especially when, they might not deserve it.) It’s easy to respond in kind when someone treats you with respect, but to borrow and slightly alter a passage from the Holy Bible, “If ye respect only those who respect you, what reward have ye?”
It is true that law enforcement officers are not all above reproach. It is true that some have violated the sacred public trust and tarnished the badge they have worn. In doing so, they bring not only their agencies, but also law enforcement in general into disrepute. It is true that none of them is perfect. The exceptions who have dishonored their profession have fed public cynicism. It is true that one of the most difficult things any officer can do is to avoid returning cynicism for cynicism, but doing so only sets in motion a vicious cycle in which officers’ cynicism leads to interactions with the public which feeds its cynicism—and around and around (and further down) it goes.
While it’s much, much easier said than done, the best way to honor Sergeant Johnson’s memory is to do the best we can to avoid getting sucked into that vicious downward spiral of cynicism and to know that the vast majority of members of the public appreciate the sacrifices which officers and their families make in order for them to do their jobs. Even optimism which occasionally is betrayed is better than cynicism and pessimism which are always rewarded.
Update, 2 October 2013: Are the Lives of Loved Ones Left Behind After Line-of-Duty Deaths “Destroyed”? – I posted the following in response to a comment regarding a report on line at SLTrib.com, that the alleged shooter in this incident expressed remorse, along with a wish to die. The comment to which I responded criticized those alleged expressions of remorse by saying that the suspect had “destroyed” the lives of Sgt. Johnson’s wife and children. I said:
As I come from a law enforcement family, I have exactly zero sympathy for this man. And I do have sympathy for Sergeant Johnson’s colleagues, family, friends, and associates. However, whether this incident destroys their lives is almost entirely up to them. Personally, although I am fortunate enough to never have had to face the prospect of losing someone close to me in the line of duty (which, I realize, makes it easy for me to say this), I believe that the only thing that could destroy the lives of those left behind is an all-consuming hatred. It is the absolute right of those Sergeant Johnson left behind to want, to expect, and indeed, to demand justice. (I feel the same way, and I never even met him.) But, with due respect, the only way his loss could destroy their lives is if they let it.
For more in this vein of thought, see here, last accessed today (I have cross-posted the above sentiments at that address, as well, as they relate to both incidents): http://www.greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/02/17/on-the-death-of-lt-fred-house/.
Update: January 3, 2014 – The main post above now has been published. Its citation is: Ken K. Gourdin (Winter 2013-14) The Utah Peace Officer, Vol. 90, Iss. 1, pp. 4-5; “In Memoriam: Sgt. Derek Johnson, Draper Utah P.D. – End of Watch September 1, 2013.” It is available on line at the following address, last accessed today (scroll down to page 4): http://www.upoa.org/magazine/90-1.pdf.