For 41 years, Jerry Johnson has made his way solving crimes.
Detective Johnson of the Bellevue Police Department stepped away from the force this Thursday, April 27, after providing 33 years of service to Bellevue and the Eastside.
“It was just a great place to work,” he said. “It’s been a great road and I’m glad I could do what I’m supposed to do.”
Johnson started his career in 1976 in Morris, Minnesota, as part of a six-person department in a rural town. A friend of his from the local Sheriff’s Department transferred to the Tacoma Police Department and would regularly come back to Minnesota to visit.
“He brought back a flier from Bellevue,” Johnson said. “This was during the “steal-a-cop” program where they would entice other officers which had already been trained to come to Bellevue. He said the community would really fit my temperament and it has.”
His wife at the time told him to just let her know when to pack their bags and they would be on their way.
Johnson started at the Bellevue Police Department in July of 1983 as a patrol officer. He described the policing as busy, but nowhere near the level of crime as Seattle.
He earned a rotation in narcotics investigation and then joined a joint task force with Seattle police, the FBI, King County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement groups dealing with bank robbery.
“We had Mercer Island ask if we could help with a missing-person case,” Johnson said. “This was in 1996, and Elvira Long had been missing for three years at this point. It was my first delving into violent crime. We made an arrest of the ex-husband. He had killed her and remarried a Russian woman. We were able to recover her remains in North Bend.”
He was also the crime-scene manager for the gruesome Rafay murders in 1994, in which Atif Rafay and Sebastian Burns murdered three members of Rafay’s own family. He said working scenes like that were difficult, but important work.
“You have to stay focused on the task at hand,” Johnson said. “It’s not going to do anything for the victims if you don’t. You’re the voice of the victims, you have to stay professional. The sadness, the grief and the horror sometimes of what you see, those hit later.”
Johnson served as the Bellevue Police Officer’s Guild President for six years in the late 1990s and Executive Board member for two years. He earned the Commander’s Award in June of 2014 for solving a cold case regarding the 1980 homicide of Susan Lowe.
“DNA has changed how we do our jobs,” he said, citing a DNA hit for helping to solve that case. “The ability of science to help out is incredible.”
Johnson solved multiple cold cases, including some of Bellevue’s oldest unsolved murders.
Next month, the King County Prosecutor’s Office will present Detective Johnson with the Outstanding Prosecuting Attorney’s Office Partner Award, reserved only for those who have dedicated themselves and shown considerable skill in the service of a case handled by the prosecuting attorney’s office over the past year.
Johnson said the future of the Bellevue Police Department needed to intertwine with that of the community.
“We combine old-school work and new partnerships to be an effective force,” he said. “Teamwork is required. Just one call has been the difference many times. If people don’t feel comfortable calling, we can’t do it all ourselves. We need to make sure the community knows they can contact us and talk to us.”
He isn’t sure what’s next, other than the next month to “decompress.” Johnson is a fisherman, a woodworker and a soon-to-be-grandfather, so he’ll have duties to attend to.
“It’s a little bittersweet leaving,” he said. “But you kind of know when it’s a good time. And if it gets too bad, I can do some private background checks, things like that. But for now, I’m going to relax.”