Face Time: Heidi Johnston, cop with a credo

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Heidi Johnston has been a park ranger out of state, a humane agent in state, a cop in a small town and in Maine’s largest city. But one thing has never changed: her commitment to helping people. 

Today she’s a patrol sergeant in Fryeburg, where she maintains her own credo for dealing with a person on what could be the worst day of their life. Think “Give options, not threats” and “Tell people why they’re being told to do something.”

Her philosophy has worked so far. She recently got promoted.

Name: Heidi D. Johnston

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Age: 37

Town: West Baldwin

Job: Patrol sergeant

What made you decide to become a police officer? I knew I wanted to be in law enforcement at a young age. I admired two former female Maine State troopers. They both influenced my decision to become a police officer.

Both troopers were assigned in Aroostook County Troop F, where I am from. One rented an apartment from family for a while. I also had one come speak to my freshman class during career day. I admired both of these troopers. They taught me what was expected as a police officer. They both helped me follow simple rules and to respect everyone.

Ever consider other jobs? No, I always wanted to be in law enforcement.

What brought you to the Fryeburg PD? Rural  and community police work and the administration’s theory on police work.

What’s it like being a woman in the police force? I love helping people and love being a police officer! I also feel like female victims relate to female officers better during certain situations.

You’re petite compared to some of the guys in the PD and probably compared to some of the criminals you encounter. How do you deal with that? I use verbal judo every day. My motto has always been, treat people how you want to be treated. Respect goes a long ways!

Verbal judo? Here are a few verbal judo examples:

1.) All cultures want to be respected and treated with dignity, regardless of the situation. When treated with disrespect, all people want revenge and to fight.

2.) All people would rather be asked than told what to do. To ask is a sign of respect. To tell is often a sign of disrespect.

3.) All people want to know why they are asked or told to do something. Telling people why is another sign of respect and it calms 70 percent of difficult people. Not telling people why is a sign of disrespect and lowers morale in all organizations — including one’s own family.

4.) All people would rather have options than threats. Again, offering people a choice of action shows respect and allows people to save personal face. Threats are not only disrespectful, they force people to resist and fight if they have any backbone!

5.) Finally, all people want a second chance to make matters right! People are human — we err and act in ways we wished we hadn’t. Whenever appropriate, people value being given a second chance to get it right.

You just made patrol sergeant. Congrats! What are the perks of being sergeant? It is a career booster for sure. Being a sergeant has not changed me as an officer or person. As a sergeant I enjoy communicating with my team of officers and my community. My main goal is to make sure all my officer are safe and return home to their families after their shift. It is a rewarding position and I am ready for the challenge.

Best part about being a cop? Helping people, teaching young people to make the right decisions and being a community police officer.

Most challenging part? Seeing adult/teens suffering or dealing with difficult situations, such as domestic violence.

Best advice to someone (boy or girl) who dreams of growing up to become a police officer? Set your goals HIGH, make smart decisions, stay away from drugs and alcohol, stay physically fit. The decisions you make as an adolescent can make or break your career in law enforcement.

Best cop movie ever: “The Departed,” “Dirty Harry,” “Die Hard” or “RoboCop.” I have to admit, I have not seen any of these movies! My favorite movie, which motivates me, is “GI, Jane.” If you have a goal, you will reach it!

Heidi Johnston

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