Hall of Fame Inductee - Ernie Johnson
Ernie began his career as a police officer in Casper, Wyoming. He worked his way through various ranks and positions in the nearly ten years he was with Casper Police Department. Ernie’s time at Casper was notable and he is particularly remembered by fellow officers of that era for the many major cases that he made as a detective and detective Sergeant. Consistently showing a gift for interrogation techniques, Ernie attained a level of successful confessions that were second to none.
Perhaps Mr. Johnson is best known in Wyoming and recognized nationally for his contributions and accomplishments while at the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy. During his tenure from 1976 through November of 2000, he served as the Assistant Director and Director of the Academy as well as the Executive Director of Peace Officer Standards and Training. It was in these roles that Mr. Johnson’s gifts as a teacher, practical instructor and leader, and ultimately a visionary for the growth of Wyoming law enforcement became evident.
Mr. Johnson’s greatest accomplishments were his effort to “grow up” the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy. Upon taking over as Director, Ernie took on the challenges of an academy that was in infancy. Although it was an independent state law enforcement basic training academy, it was extremely dependent upon the Federal Government for instructors. Under Ernie’s leadership, the training staff ultimately grew from one assistant to a training cadre of twelve full-time instructors. The basic training that initially focused only on peace officers, eventually expanded under Mr. Johnson’s direction to include detention officers, communication personnel, and coroners. Special advanced training schools for experienced veteran officers grew from a few to over fifty sessions annually.
When Ernie became its director, the Academy was housed on the Wyoming State Fairgrounds which meant that training could only be offered part-time. It was clear that a facility where law enforcement training could occur 12 months of the year was required to establish credibility of the programs as well as handle the ever increasing demand for these training programs. Mr. Johnson persevered in presenting that need to any and all that would listen and championed the call to build a specialized law enforcement training facility when many others would have refused the challenge. The state-of-the-art Academy facility was ultimately built and began service in 1984. Immediately, all of the training programs expanded in quality, duration and attendance numbers.
Ernie practiced and demanded of his staff the maintenance of a very high standard of professionalism throughout the training efforts. Yet that constant striving for excellence was always blended with his deep care for the students. Mr. Johnson consistently delivered well-prepared and engaging lectures that kept students interested and challenged throughout the entire class. As a result of his career-long pursuit of additional training and continuing education, Ernie developed an undeniable mastery of the career field.
The standards and procedures of Wyoming law enforcement improved dramatically under Mr. Johnson’s leadership. Enhanced student performance standards that he introduced into the basic training curriculum include: custody control, firearms, physical training, and emergency vehicle operations. These standards not only trained the officer to be safer but, because the officers were better prepared and more skilled, the communities of Wyoming were the beneficiaries of truly professional services. Mr. Johnson personally took on what is often the most problematic area, the use of force, as his own area of expertise. Consequently, the number of judgments against law enforcement that were collected in Wyoming was reduced through the professional standard, quality training and the credible testimony provided by Mr. Johnson.
In order to accomplish all that he did, Mr. Johnson assembled an extremely gifted staff and consistently sought and gained the support of the officers and administrators within the state and across the nation. He has been repeatedly recognized nationally for the many professional programs that were started by the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy, but openly shared with other states.
It is worth noting that Mr. Johnson is both a product of and a role model for the entire Wyoming system that is responsible for the professionalism, career development and education of a professional Wyoming law enforcement officer. It is this very system that Mr. Johnson has spent his career trying to improve and even professionalize further.