“I’m learning a lot here, and it’s been a good experience. But I miss Hopkins and the guys at the department,” Johnson said during a phone interview from Afghanistan.
Hopkins officers have deployed through the military before, but this time Johnson and two others will be on active duty at once. At the same time, the department is down two more officers because of essential training and medical causes. In all, an unprecedented one-fifth of the department’s 26-officer force will be gone through the summer. Routine sick time, vacation and other training could further stretch the department.
“By mid to late summer, we’ll be doing OK—not great, but breaking even,” said Police Sgt. Michael Glassberg.
Still, Glassberg said, residents shouldn’t see any change in police response to emergency calls, although the officer shortage could slow investigation of smaller property crimes and put additional strain on the remaining officers.
“We will still continue to give our high level of service to the city,” he promised. “It’s just some things will be delayed.”
The absences are virtually unavoidable. Under federal law, in most situations, guardsmen and reservists called up to active duty have a right to be rehired at their old job.
The department isn’t without options. Planning for the absences started several months ago—the city hired an officer in anticipation of one retirement and has two officers in training.
Patrol is the first priority, so the department will pull officers from other areas, including investigations, to fill patrol slots. The department will also let officers volunteer for overtime at the statistically busiest times of day, when extra manpower is needed.
“We don’t want to work everybody into the ground where they work every day,” Glassberg said.
Hennepin County deputies will also patrol through Hopkins more frequently. Three Rivers Park District police will further beef up coverage.
Deployments like Johnson’s aren’t all negative for the department. Working in a combat zone allows Johnson to regularly practice medical training and other skills that aren’t used as frequently in Hopkins. Then there are the episodes, such a recent incident with 10 casualties, where Johnson calls on the same leadership and coordination required of an on-scene commander in Hopkins.
"It seems like it's related on a lot of levels," he said of the two jobs.
Johnson keeps tabs on Hopkins crime trends through his work e-mail, and he talks often with department leaders, all to speed his return to day-to-day police duties once he’s back home.
When will they be gone?
The absences peak this summer but last through the second part of 2012. Here's how they shake out:
- The department will have three officers on active duty starting May 1. Johnson, who’s over halfway through his deployment, should return Aug. 1. The other two officers called up to active duty will be gone through the fall of 2012.
- Another officer is at the FBI Academy for training through June.
- The department can expect at least one more officer on light duty or medical leave.