In 1987, after serving on several boards and commissions in town, Darien resident Paul Johnson became a member of the Police Commission. He stayed on it for 32 years.

Johnson, now 79, has stepped down from this volunteer position, 12 years of which he served as chairman.

During his time on the commission, he served under six police chiefs: John Jordan, Bruce Anderson, Hugh McManus, Duane Lovello, Ray Osborne and Don Anderson, who is Bruce’s son.

A father of two and grandfather of two, Johnson is an attorney with Curtis, Brinckerhoff and Barrett in Stamford.

He recently sat down with The Darien Times in his home to reflect on his time on the commission, as well as share his insights on the police department.

Department changes/policies

Johnson said many positive police department changes and policies have come through the Police Commission during his service.

One is hiring police resource people full time in the high school and middle school.

“I think that’s been very important; the kids realize that these police officers are not against them, they’re there to help,” he said.

Sgt. James Palmieri was the school resource officer at Darien High School “and he would say that he became a sounding board for a lot of these kids who maybe had some troubles at home,” Johnson said. “They came into his office and opened up to him.”

Having an SRO at the middle school “is going to be even more significant because you get the kids at a real tough age,” he added.

Another recent department policy Johnson strongly supported is the creation of the Juvenile Review Board. This is a program for youth who are not serious offenders.

“You don’t send them right off to the courthouse,” he said. “There is a review board that has been established where these kids can go, where there are no court records. They can be talked to and given some voluntary service that they have to do.”

“It’s new and it’s working,” added Johnson, in regard to the program.

Higher education

According to Johnson, a significant way the police department has evolved over the past three decades is by encouraging the education of its members.

“Soon after I got on, the contracts allowed the officers to get free education as long as it was in the police field,” he said.

As a result, he said the department has become an increasingly more educated group.

Out of a 51-member department, 80 percent have bachelor’s degrees, about 30 percent have master’s degrees, and one member has a Ph.D.

In regard to Johnson’s own education, he said having a law degree and practicing law has helped him in his role on the Police Commission “because legal questions come up and legal training does help.”

Staying apolitical

According to Johnson, it’s very important that the Police Commission is not interested publicly in politics.

“I don’t care what people’s personal politics are, but I don’t think it looks good for a police commissioner to start writing letters to the newspaper supporting someone over someone else,” he said.

Those serving on the Police Commission also need to be independent, sensible, and able to look at “the big picture,” Johnson added.

Praise

According to Johnson, the police department has gotten a lot of national press over the Internet about the recent situation with NY Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, when he was mistaken for a car thief and Darien police pulled their guns on him.

“It was really good to hear his response to how professional that was handled and how he was praiseworthy of the department,” Johnson said.

Fun facts about Johnson

 During Johnson’s entire time on Police Commission, he and fellow members have agreed on every single issue that came up, with one exception — allowing officers to grow beards.

“About 25 years ago, the officers asked the commission if they could grow well-groomed beards,” he said, adding he was the only one who voted yes.

“The other two didn’t think a beard looked professional,” he said, adding that as of last year, their contract now allows them to grow beards.

 Johnson’s home was the second to last to get power back after Superstorm Sandy.

“We were out forever and I was friends with the first selectman at that time, Dave Campbell,” Johnson said. “He said to me, ‘If you’re the last person to get it back, I’m going to buy you dinner.’”

“I finished second to last,” he chuckled.

Tributes to Johnson

Former Darien Police Chief Ray Osborne said Johnson has been a “true friend” to the Darien Police Department for over 30 years.

“I have been able to get to know him on a more personal level for the past three years during my tenure as captain and then chief. He has been very supportive of all of our projects and programs and has provided me with wise advise and counsel during that time,” Osborne added. “He will be missed.”

Darien Police Chief Don Anderson said it is his “firm belief” that Johnson has served with “honor, distinction and a solid sense of fairness and well-reasoned practicality.”

Anderson added that Johnson served the Darien Police Department from both sides. Prior to his appointment to the Police Commission, he served as labor counsel to the Darien Police Association, which is the collective bargaining unit for rank and file police officers up to the rank of lieutenant.

“I’m quite certain that the practical knowledge and experience gleaned from being involved in the workings of a police agency such as ours (from sometime opposing viewpoints) added to his overall effectiveness as a commissioner as well,” Johnson said.

“I’m sure Commissioner Johnson won’t be a stranger around town and will be seen rooting on the DHS Football Blue Wave every home Saturday this fall,” Johnson added.

“I wish to take this opportunity to personally thank him for his faith in, and support of, two generations of Andersons in the Darien Police Department.”

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said that on behalf of the Board of Selectmen and the Town of Darien, “I want extend our deepest gratitude to J. Paul Johnson for his 32 years of dedicated service to the Darien Police Commission and Department.”

“Commissioner Johnson has provided leadership, wise counsel and historic perspective to the commission during his long tenure. His efforts, along with those of his fellow commissioners over the years, have solidified the Darien Police Department as an exceptional Connecticut law enforcement agency,” Stevenson said. “Commissioner Johnson leaves big shoes to fill on the Police Commission but we are confident Commissioner Kevin Cunningham is very well-suited for the task.”

‘A good job’

According to Johnson, one of the roles of the Police Commission is to oversee the police department to hire new people and to promote existing people, “and I think we have done a good job over the years,” he said.

“You hire the new guys and gals, but you want to see them flourish, and it’s been really nice,” he added.

sfox@darientimes.com