Gordon Johnson, 33, has degrees in Spanish and biology from the University of Memphis. For eight years he worked in a research laboratory at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. But for the past three years he’s been a beat cop for the Knoxville Police Department, working the streets and neighborhoods of East Knoxville.
“Yes, people wonder why I have these degrees, yet here I am a cop,” he says. “I’ve always been inspired by police officers. Growing up we respected them. Taking this job is one of the absolute best things I’ve ever done. I kept wondering if I would ever find my perfect job and I did. It’s all worked out and we’re settling down here.”
Note the collective pronoun “we’re” he used. Gordon and his pharmacist wife Angela have two boys, 3 years old and 3 months old. “This is a great place to raise a family. It didn’t take us long to realize that.”
They ended up here because Angela was accepted into pharmacy school at South College.
Law enforcement is part of both of their families. To wit:
He had a grandfather with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and a great grandfather with the Memphis Police Department.
Two brothers-in-law who worked at the MPD and then the Clinton Police Department.
His father-in-law, Larry Godwin, now retired and living in Tellico, was the director (chief) of the Memphis Police Department for six years and a Memphis cop for 38 years. Once retired, he worked for then-Gov. Bill Haslam as deputy commissioner for Homeland Security for the state of Tennessee.
After a long interview/conversation with Johnson and hearing what all he had to say, an opinion voiced by one of his supervisors seems spot on: “…. Knoxville is lucky to have him.”
KPD Sgt. Rachel Britt said this: “Officer Johnson is an asset to not just the KPD, but to the city as a whole. He’s hardworking, sharp, compassionate and fair. He has a knack for creating relationships with members of our community, making them feel safe and heard.”
Johnson says he was hesitant about becoming a cop. Why? “My personality. I’m not that outgoing and I’m usually pretty quiet. Once I got out on the streets and started interacting with the community, I knew I loved it right off. Interacting with the people in the community is one of the coolest parts of my job. I take pride in that. I feel like I can talk to anybody.”
He spends a lot of time in the Cherry Street-Magnolia Avenue part of town. His biggest surprise is dealing with so many people with mental health issues. “I knew they were out there but we sure have a lot,” Johnson says. “The other thing is the amount of juvenile violent crimes we have. Kids not even 18, stealing guns and cars and being involved in robberies.”
Johnson was one of three officers who earned Officer of the Month honors on March 2 for their quick work after a shooting was reported the previous Dec. 29 at the Rocky Apartments at 4009 Bedrock Way. During a 5 a.m. robbery, two people were shot and killed. Two men were seen leaving the area on foot and Johnson and Officer Caleb Coffee responded. They spotted the men along I-640 and began a foot pursuit.
It didn’t take long for Johnson and Coffey to capture them. “It only took a couple of minutes,” Johnson recalls. “We chased them a couple of blocks through some woods and we jumped a few fences.”
It’s dangerous work. Johnson and Coffey had to assume these alleged murderers were still armed. How scary is it?
“If I was scared, I would not be out here doing this work,” Johnson said. “There are things that make me nervous. But you push through those things and do the job. We do get involved in some sticky situations. You get used to it and deal with it.”
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. He writes this Monday column – Our Town Heroes –for KnoxTNToday.com. Suggest future stories at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 865-659-3562.