By JAMES BENNETT III
USFSP Student Reporter
ST. PETERSBURG – While he was growing up behind the Mini Mart at 7100 Fifth Ave. N, the sound of police sirens rushing down the busy road inspired Dale Johnson to want to help people.
And after taking his first criminal justice course in college, he was sure he wanted to join the police force.
Now, after 11 years with the St. Petersburg Police Department, Officer Johnson says the most important thing he has learned is how to appreciate the finer things.
“Life is precious,” Johnson said. “Time and family – you just can’t get enough of those.”
Johnson, 35, has a wife and two daughters. At the end of the day, going home to them is what matters most.
His wife works in the department’s public records unit so, unlike most of the spouses and significant others of Johnson’s fellow officers, she understands when he gets home late.
The most frustrating part of his job, he says, is that the department does not have enough resources. He would like to see more officers patrolling the city. Spotty technology can also make it difficult to coordinate officers in the city that Johnson grew up in.
He knew that his would often be a thankless job, Johnson said. Pedestrians often shout angry words at him.
Paul Congemi, a controversial figure who was making his third unsuccessful race for mayor in 2017, even sent Johnson an angry letter after Johnson had to escort him out of Tyrone Square Mall. The letter came in a black envelope with a sticker of Congemi’s face on it.
However, there are also people who try to show Johnson how grateful they are for his work.
Restaurant staff, convenience store employees and other customers offer to pay his bill from time to time. Johnson always tries to refuse, he says, and goes back later to put money in a tip jar when the patron won’t accept no for an answer.
Taking advantage of generous civilians goes against his moral code, Johnson says. He became a police officer to serve and protect, not take advantage of his badge.
The less violent side of his job includes easing tense situations. On March 27, he stuck with child for nearly three hours until she could be picked up by a guardian. Later that night, he comforted a man who had been involved in a car accident by trading square dancing stories
The man wore a shirt depicting a chicken that stood on the pie symbol and had a cooking pot in its mouth. He explained the graphic to Johnson in three words: chicken pot pie.
Johnson was named Field Training Officer of the Year 2016 by the St. Petersburg Civitan Club and has been nominated for Officer of the Year by the Exchange Club of St. Petersburg. His wife has attended every ceremony.