Interview with Johnny Russell, Retired San Diego Police Officer and Author of First Blood
Johnny Russell served for thirty years as a law enforcement officer for the City of San Diego. He is also the award winning author of the book First Blood and hosts and writes the well-respected blog, Johnny Comes Blogging. In the following interview Johnny Russell discloses how and why he became a police officer, how to make sure a police officer is safe on the streets, and his perspective on “cover officers.” This thirty year veteran insures that the individual who is contemplating the role of police officer understands the role he plays.
What event or series of events led you to pursue the role of police officer as your professional choice? Please elaborate.
Honestly, I had never thought about law Enforcement as a child growing up, as so many in L.E. say they have. I was stopped in my youth and given tickets several times. But until I was stopped by a black police officer my views changed. I knew I screwed up and deserved a ticket, but I had just gotten one a week ago. I told him that and asked for a break but the officer just kept right on writing. I signed it. When he left I looked at the ticket and it was a warning. No other cop I’ve ever gotten stopped by even had a residue of compassion. My first thought was a cop who can professionally do the job and still treat people the way he would want to be treated. That act of kindness sold me. That was the job I wanted to do.
How would you advise an individual entering the police force professions to proceed? What are the challenges, or obstacles that may be faced?
Stay in shape. This job is not for the timid. You can’t be afraid of a bloody nose. If you get attacked you keep on fighting. That is why staying in shape is so important. It requires discipline and either you have it or you don’t. Dig deep from within and do what it takes to stay in shape.
In hand to hand battle it may be the edge that keeps you alive. Once I became a police officer I noticed several others in my profession that in my opinion were too out of shape to be cops. At 50, I was jumping 12 foot chain link fences while my cover officer (around my age) stayed on the other side and watched. I considered those so called (cover officers) useless to me. The youngsters you will be chasing are gonna be half your age and a lot of them twice your size. Stay in shape.
Name 1 or 2 guidelines you would offer the police officer just entering the field?
Know how to type and how to read a map.
Can you give us an example of an interesting case or project that you have worked on and your role in helping to achieve a positive outcome?
Early 80’s I responded to a domestic violence call in the ghetto part of town. When I arrived I saw that the wife had been beaten to a pulp. The husband was gone. As I looked around the scene, I could not help but notice a brand new state of the art (at that time) standing video game. The classic booth type game where the player stands in front of a TV screen and controls the game with a joystick.
The husband worked for the Sega Genesis Company that makes the game booths. I discovered he had been stealing the game parts from his job, reassembling them at home and selling them for profit.
I retrieved a search warrant and found enough parts to make seven more complete games booths. I charged the husband with domestic violence and grand theft.
What is your best advice for someone just starting their career in law enforcement?
Contrary to popular belief you will not be a cop forever. Your career may not go as planned. You may work half your career, then have a life changing injury. At retirement age you could find that you don’t have one. So maximize whatever retirement contributions you are allowed to make into your retirement account.
In your opinion, what are the most important technological advances that have taken place in law enforcement in the past 5-10 years and how do these advances impact your profession?
Mobile Data Terminal. MDT’s are by far the single most significant advance. Officers are faced with many unknowns about geographical area, suspect’s records, restraining orders, all this the officer used to phone in to get. Now the information is at the officer’s fingertips.
As a police officer, what do you see as your most important strength and how does this strength show itself in your work?
As a rookie I investigated a report of a man sitting in a car in an abandoned lot with the motor running. Upon my arrival I saw a hose from the exhaust pipe leading into the cab of his car. I saw the still figure of a man in the driver’s seat. He had all windows rolled up. I opened the door. The man was dead with a note in his lap. “Goodbye cruel world.” Simple suicide, right? I wrote it up just like I posted it here, and got the ass chewing of the century. Homicide investigators grilled me on how I knew it was a suicide. Why couldn’t someone have suffocated him and left him for dead inside the car with the motor running? Then put that note in his lap? That lesson taught me to be very critical about crime scene investigation.
Police work requires analysis. Conjecture has its place but not in police work. I have found that my best work is predicated from a well thought out analytical approach to each and every investigation. I have received awards for doing a good job in that department.
However, whenever someone is promoted with less experience, which may happen, and that
person becomes your boss. You may find yourself working with the boss’s less experienced
friends from his academy class. They may pull the boss’s ear and say, “This older guy is too
critical when it comes to crime scene investigation”. That’s when you know it’s time to retire.