Will Johnson was named chief
of the Arlington Police Department in March 2013. He has more than two decades of experience as a police officer and has served as a deputy police chief, an assistant police chief and as interim police chief before taking his current position. This month, he talks about how the department works hand in hand with residents.
Arlington Today: What, in your opinion, is the role of the Arlington Police Department?
Chief Will Johnson: The primary role of the Arlington Police Department is providing exceptional service to our community. We believe that serving the public through proactive crime prevention, effective enforcement and being able to lend a helping hand wherever needed helps to build trust and strengthen police and community relationships. Through a shared responsibility with our community, we are dedicated to solving crime and enhancing public safety for everyone. Fairness, transparency, voice and impartiality are at the very core of our policing philosophy as we promote procedural justice concepts both internally and externally. We cannot do it alone and must rely upon partnerships with our community to maintain safe and inclusive communities for all.
AT: What are some of the programs you’ve put in place recently to make Arlington a better city in which to live?
WJ: With the community as strategic partners, the Arlington Police Department has been fortunate to implement and sustain a number of successful public programs. Many of our programs have been around for decades. Volunteers can serve in a variety of functions throughout the department including our Citizens On Patrol program, Community Watch Groups and popular Citizen Police Academies. There’s something available for every segment of our population. One of the most recent programs we have implemented is called Mentoring Arlington Youth or the MAY Program. This program is designed for young African American and Hispanic boys in the seventh and eighth grades. Each student has been paired with an officer or male community leader for a curriculum that prepares young boys for manhood, taking responsibility and exposes them to team building, leadership, discipline and service.
Other programs such as our Hometown Recruiting and Police Explorer Post are designed to introduce our youth to careers in policing. The Police Athletic League or PAL Camp inspires youth to become successful in every endeavor that they experience. Officers participate in summer camp activities with at-risk youth through PAL Camp. I am also extremely proud of our innovative Coach 5-0 program, where officers at all ranks partner with high school athletes to serve as a role model and forge strong relationships. We just finished up the football season but plan to replicate our efforts across all sporting events. All of these programs allow and encourage our citizens to become involved in the department, but more importantly encourage them to take an active part in helping us provide public safety for our community.
AT: How has the city responded to the department’s proactive approach?
WJ: Community response to our programs has been phenomenal. We currently have over 200 active volunteers who log an average of about 30,000 hours a year assisting the police. Our Citizen Police Academy program has expanded over the years to include academy classes for Hispanic citizens and high school students. Before the Citizen Police Academy, individuals saw only the badge and the uniform. After graduation from our programs, there’s a better understanding of the individuals behind the badge. They provide a substantial return of service to their communities and become our biggest champions for public safety. During 2014, our volunteers returned $551,544 in resource hours back to the department based upon their compassion, dedication and commitment to making our community better. We receive a tremendous outpouring of support for police programs on National Night Out when we go into the community to interact with residents. Because of officer and citizen involvement, Arlington has one of the most successful National Night Out programs in the country. Last year, we moved up one place to finish fourth in a national ranking of large U.S. cities that participate in National Night Out.
AT: You’ve been noted for being particularly progressive with regard to the way the department communicates with the people it serves. Can you elaborate on how that’s going?
WJ: The Arlington Police Department believes “You cannot achieve an engaged community without having an informed community.” We have developed an effective communication strategy that allows us to reach diverse segments of our population. Through our award-winning communication strategy, we use various communication channels to get our message out and tell our success stories.
These methods include social media, traditional news media, special publications and an internal communication strategy that keeps our employees informed. For three consecutive years, we have won awards for our innovative use of social media. We recently won a first place international award for the production of our Police Department Annual Report that catalogs our community story and what the department has accomplished with the funds that have been entrusted to us. Because of our ability to communicate effectively, we are reaching and engaging more people than ever before.