A love of fitness and bodybuilding led a campus policeman to a 32-year-long career in law enforcement in which he served on the governor’s detail, busted drug dealers and even delivered a baby on the highway.
The officer, David Johnson, wore a blue and white New York Yankees T-shirt and jeans on his muscular 5-foot-9-inch, 215-pound frame when he appeared in a news writing class to be interviewed as a mystery guest recently. He has a disarmingly friendly demeanor.
Johnson, 54, has been a police officer at University of Richmond for almost three years. This followed almost 30 years with the Virginia State Police. His career in law enforcement began when he applied to the Virginia State Police Academy in North Chesterfield, Virginia, with the hopes of becoming a fitness instructor there, he said.
After he graduated from Powhatan High School, Johnson played football for Virginia State University for one year before a knee injury ended his career, he said. It was after this that he said he had begun his competitive career in bodybuilding, winning almost 15 titles, including Mr. Virginia, Mr. Virginia Beach and Mr. South Boston. He also won his heavyweight class in the Collegian Nationals in 1983.
Johnson’s love of fitness began when his father gave him a set of plastic weights in the fifth grade, he said. With the help of his gym teacher at the time, Johnson said he had grown to love exercising so much that he decided he wanted to be a gym teacher when he graduated from college.
“I spent all of college spending my parents’ money,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t just go home and do nothing.” Because of this, Johnson decided to attend the Virginia Police Academy in the hopes of eventually becoming a fitness instructor for the cadets there.
Once he had undergone training, he said he could not have imagined doing anything except being a police officer. The first 15 years of his career were spent doing mostly highway patrol on Interstate-95, a major highway for the transport of drugs.
Johnson once arrested a man on I-95 carrying $1.5 million in cash and a pound of marijuana across state lines in his pickup truck, he said. When he stopped the truck, he noticed something was wrong immediately because the man was alone in a truck coming from Florida, yet there was no luggage, he said.
When officers are patrolling, they look for swerving cars coming from far away, and are suspicious if the cars have just one person in them, are carrying no luggage or have fast-food wrappers everywhere, Johnson said. In this particular case, Johnson noticed something was wrong and, after further inspection, he found the cash in the bed of the truck under a plastic cover, he said.
One of the most memorable experiences Johnson has had as an officer was when he delivered a baby on the side of the highway, he said. It was a snowy, icy November morning when he spotted a car driving slowly on the shoulder of the road, he said.
“I was ready to give the driver a ticket when I pulled them over,” Johnson said. Instead, a man ran to Johnson’s car, desperate to find someone to deliver his wife’s baby. She was in the passenger seat with her feet on the dashboard, he said.
Johnson called the rescue squad as the man frantically begged Johnson to do something himself, because his wife could not wait, Johnson said. Through his nervousness and with the husband yelling in his ear the whole time, Johnson said he delivered the woman’s baby, a girl, as the rescue squad came. He said it was the woman’s sixth child, so the birth went smoothly. He recently was invited to the girl's 21st birthday, but he couldn’t attend because of his work schedule.
Delivering this baby earned Johnson articles in Women’s World Magazine and Trooper Magazine and was a very emotional experience for him, he said. An entirely different emotion that was common throughout Johnson’s career, however, was fear, he said.
Within the first five years of his job with state police, Johnson stopped a car for speeding just outside of Richmond, he said. As he was waiting for the driver, a young man of about 19, to get out his license and registration, Johnson noticed a bullet roll out from under the seat, he said.
Johnson walked back to his car slowly and called for backup, not letting the driver know he had seen anything, Johnson said. He later found out that although the young man had no intention of shooting Johnson, he had a machine gun in his car that he had pushed under his seat in a hurry when he saw Johnson's police car, Johnson said.
Johnson often felt fear in those situations, which he dealt with frequently as an officer. “If you don’t have a little bit of fear in your body, you’re not human,” Johnson said.
After 15 years as an officer, Johnson became a part of the governor’s detail, where in 15 years he worked with four different Virginia governors, he said. In this specialized Executive Detective Unit, he said he had traveled around the world to countries such as India, China, Germany and Japan, protecting the governors and their families.
A particular memory Johnson recalled was traveling to New Delhi and going to the U.N. to speak to the ambassador, all while carrying three weapons in different places on his body. Officers on the Governor’s Detail were trained to deal with hostage situations and negotiations in addition to shooting and hand-to-hand combat, he said.
His job required him to be able to appropriately communicate with officials from around the world while still being on guard in case the governor was put in danger, Johnson said.
Although Johnson loved the action of his state police career, he took a job at Richmond to be closer to home and his family, he said. Johnson has a wife, Kristin, and four daughters, ages 29, 18, 16 and 13.
At Richmond, Johnson mostly deals with alcohol-related problems and larceny on campus, he said. Personal objects such as laptops, phones and wallets have been disappearing more frequently in the past few weeks, Johnson said.
Another major problem Johnson deals with is alcohol, especially on the weekends, he said. Drunken males often cause a lot of problems for the officers, he said. Nevertheless, he said he wanted to be a mentor for students.
Along with many other officers across the country, Johnson recently began wearing a small video camera on his chest while he works, he said. These cameras are to make sure officers are doing their job and citizens are cooperating, and are reviewed if there are problems with an arrest or interaction, he said.
“The more cameras you have out there, the better for both officers and citizens,” Johnson said.
Johnson loves working at the university and plans to continue until retirement age, he said. He’s not finished competing in fitness, either. He hopes to compete next summer in the body-building event for 50 and over in the World Police and Fire Games in Fairfax County, which is like the Olympics for police, he said.
Contact reporter Annie Blanc at firstname.lastname@example.org