WILMINGTON — Wilmington Police Department Officer Tyler Johnson says he often hears people say something about how his police cruiser — with distinctive blue and white stripes — differs from other ones. That’s because Johnson, the city’s traffic safety officer, primarily responds to complaints about traffic infractions.
A few years ago, the citizens of Wilmington responded to a survey about what kind of developments they wanted to see at the police department, Johnson said. Three of those were a K-9 officer, a school resource officer and a traffic safety officer.
“Chief gets calls from concerned citizens in the area about people rolling stop signs, kids being on the sidewalk with excessive speed, traffic,” Johnson said. “Then I kind of alter my schedule to accommodate getting those requests taken care of for the quality of life of people in residential areas.”
Johnson said he focuses on residential areas – truck traffic in the Denver Addition area or Florence Avenue, for instance. The goal, he said, is to “decrease traffic accidents and betterment of driving behaviors.”
Johnson was hired to the department in March of last year and was selected to be the traffic safety officer in October.
To him, police work is how he gives back to the community. It was a difficult decision to make, but he has “a blast doing it” and doesn’t regret it.
“I moved back to Wilmington and decided that increasing the quality of life of people in Wilmington is a good calling for me,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t think of anything better to fill that gap than to become law enforcement in the city I grew up in.”
Johnson said he saw the difference between the booming days of DHL and the layoffs that occurred afterwards.
“What better way to get in on revitalizing city life than catering towards … customer service, dealing with people as if they’re your family,” Johnson said.
He said he stresses customer service on routine traffic stops. “The way I approach it is everybody that I have contact with, treat them like I would like my mother treated at a traffic stop.”
He said most of the time he issues a warning and explains why the infraction is dangerous.
“I think education is the key in changing driving behavior,” he said. “Treating people with respect all the time, it furthers what we can do.”
Johnson said the department operates like “brothers in blue.”
“Everybody’s real tight,” Johnson said. “I think that everybody gets along great. … In my position, I can’t help if something sounds like it could be bad, I just go.
“Same for me,” he continued. “If a traffic stop starts to look hairy, in a minute, there’s two other cop cars there without me even asking.”
As for honoring police, like this week’s National Police Week aims to do, Johnson said officers in Wilmington are respected.
“We want to be understood, and people understand that we do risk a lot for them,” he said. “The negative perception of police is the vast minority, but they’re the loud minority. The vast majority is silent.
“I think we’re very well respected around Wilmington,” he continued. “We see them honoring us and respecting us all the time.”
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.