by Doug Berger
When Ava Police Chief Reggie Johnson retires from the department on May 31, he will have served 29.6 years with the department.
Johnson started his service with the police department in January, 1992. He was promoted to Sergeant in 1998; Lieutenant, 2003; and Police Chief in 2010.
“I was actually hired by the sheriff back then, and I was a dispatcher. Back then the county paid for two dispatchers and the city paid for two dispatchers. The dispatching was all done at the sheriff’s office. But when I went to work there the opening was actually on the city payroll. So I’ve always been a city employee,” Johnson stated.
Johnson would later receive his state law enforcement certification and in October, 1995, he transferred to being a police officer with the department.
Johnson stated that he always had a desire to be involved in law enforcement. He indicated he had worked with the city and rural fire departments.
“While working with the fire department, I thought I’d like to be a cop one day. So the opportunity arose and this is where I’m at today. I always wanted to serve my community. I was born and raised here,” he said.
Johnson stated there are challenges to working in law enforcement in your home town, but over time they work themselves out.
“When I first started in law enforcement in my home town, I got a lot of grief. A lot of my friends kind of turned against me, because I was a cop and I was out here writing tickets. I was actually writing them tickets. It’s hard to be an officer in your home town, but as the years go on things settled. People accept you and it’s been really good. The city’s been great to me. The citizens here, I can’t ask for them to be any better than they have been. They’ve supported the police department and that means a lot,” he said.
Johnson stated there have been challenges when he started in law enforcement that remain today.
“The war on drugs was just starting. We fought it and fought it and fought it and we’re still fighting it. That’s going to be a never ending situation. It’s always going to be there. I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel for that to be gone,” he said.
Johnson stated that there have also been many satisfying parts of the job.
“At one time we went from a nine man department down to a seven man department and we are a seven man department today. When I took over as chief, I noticed we were having a big turnover, and our biggest turnover problem was pay. So I went to the mayor at that time, and I said we need to get our pay up or we will continue to have this problem with turnover. So we agreed what we would do is go to seven and take two officers pay and use for the other officers to help with pay, and hopefully keep turnover down. And it really helped. At one time we always felt like we were a training facility. We’re competitive now with other cities around us,” he said.
“I put a good strong police department together, I feel like. It’s been an awesome ride in this department. I can’t ask for anything to be any better than what it is. I’m hoping I’m leaving it in good shape with the new guy. He’s going to do an awesome job,” Johnson said.
“I encourage anybody that wants to be in law enforcement to do it. It’s a good opportunity. It’s a horrible world out here that we’re living in and it’s going to be very difficult for these new officers to adapt to the law enforcement world. I know new officers will adapt to that and that’s how they’re going to be trained coming up through the ranks. The law enforcement world is going to change from what it was when I started,” he said.
Johnson stated he has no special plans for his retirement, and he laughs that he has taken another job.
“Believe it or not, I’ve taken another job. I start June 2 at Silver Dollar City. I’ll be a ride operator. I’ve spent 30 years in law enforcement. I tell people I took another job and they say, oh, you took a security job, absolutely not, nothing against my law enforcement family, but I just wanted a break from it,” he said.
He stated that he will be running five different rides for the younger kids.
“I think it will be a lot of fun. I love kids. I’m excited about this,” he stated.
“I can’t stress enough how well the city has treated me. They’ve done a lot for me. I want to thank them for what all they have done. I want to thank my family for supporting me. And I’m going to miss my brothers and sisters in law enforcement,” he said.