Detective Mike Johnson spent three years on the outside of Frankfort crime scenes before he could get inside the yellow tape – where the interesting stuff happens.
“Police work is fun; you are interacting with the community, but when a big crime comes up, the patrolman is outside of the crime tape securing the scene, and that’s where the investigation was going on,” he said during a recent interview at the Public Safety Facility.
“I always wanted to know what was going on inside the tape – I think that’s why you take the job.”
The Louisville native landed here almost 20 years ago after applying for the patrolman position with Frankfort Police when he graduated from University of Louisville with a bachelor’s degree in police administration.
“My parents still have drawings that I did in elementary school and there was always a soldier or a policeman in there, and I knew that’s what I was going to grow up to be.”
Mike completed his degree because he was intrigued by police work, but he had other plans after serving in ROTC. Mike was an officer with the Army Reserves and ultimately wanted to go on active duty. However, after the first Gulf War he changed his mind.
“The military was downsizing quite a bit, and I thought that might not make a good career move so I was stationed at Fort Knox when I filled out the application for the Frankfort department.”
Once promoted to detective, he worked for five years before going back to the street for another four years as a patrolman.
“Being so young no one expected to be a three-year patrolman making detective – that’s just wasn’t heard of. I guess I just missed the fun of the street.”
Ultimately he decided he belonged in the crime scene, where he’s been for the last seven years.
Mike’s desk is full of files including death investigations, rapes, check fraud, burglaries, and because of the small staff in Frankfort he – like the other detectives on staff – must be a jack of all trades as each crime is investigated differently. The detectives work shifts from 8 a.m. -4 p.m. Monday though Friday, but they take turns on call one night per week and one weekend per month.
“We’ll get calls at 3 in the morning so you get up, wipe your eyes, put on some clothes, go out and try to function,” he says.
Mike explained that at first the job can be shocking, but once he became seasoned he realized “it’s just a job – as horrible as the scene is you’ve just got to be that much more focused on your job.”
“I’ve seen things I wish I had never seen – it really wears on ya,” he said. “You can’t un-see things, and Frankfort being a small town you know everybody, so ultimately you’re going to come across people that you know.
“Going to an autopsy of a young child – it’s difficult to do. Going to a crime scene where you’re expected to work with a dead body right next to you – it can be difficult, but instead of being depressed about it or shocked you become hardened and intrigued.”
He said that’s when he started asking why a body landed the way it did or why the bullet traveled the path it took.
“There are no emotional ties with these cases or at least that’s what you try to maintain,” he said about the stack of files on his desk.
Since 45-year-old Mike started in Frankfort, he has been on the department honor guard, acted as the lead negotiator on the crisis and negotiation unit and worked as a field-training officer.
“It’s like anything else, you’re drawn to the excitement of the job. With policing you aren’t tied down to the desk – though I do spend a lot of time behind a desk, but things change everyday.”
Outside of the office, Mike admits he doesn’t have much down time with three children – ages 16, 12 and 2.
The father coaches baseball and football for his children’s teams.
He says his family has grown used to waking up, seeing a Frankfort murder on the morning news and assuming he won’t be home for a couple of days. The summer of 2010 was the most extreme when six homicides occurred and another dozen shootings.
And while the detective is quick to point out which details of his job are dramatized during prime time television, he knows the importance of the first 48 hours of a case – especially after a homicide.
“The ‘first 48’ has a lot to do with it, because after the case gets colder people have time to create a better alibi, memories get washed away, evidence has a tendency to disappear – whether it was intentionally or unintentionally. The downside of that is when we do have cases like that you aren’t going home.”
It’s not uncommon for the detectives to work 120-hour weeks after a homicide. He says he will go home to shower, change clothes and possibly eat a meal, but he’ll head back to the office quickly to keep the case moving.
“You know how important that is – someone has lost their life, so you have to just keep going and going and going.”
He said during the summer of 2010 the staff was utterly exhausted after endless days.
“You could imagine it probably aged us quite a bit.”
However, the detective says the job is worth the long hours and stress when he hears back from the victims he’s helped. Several ‘thank you’ cards line his cubicle wall, but one stands out. An elderly woman, who lives on East Main Street, was scammed out of $1,300 after she thought she was having her roof repaired.
“We got him in and forced him to pay restitution so she got her money back – money she never, ever expected to see again, and she wrote me a thank you card to let me know how much it meant to her – little things like that kind of mean a lot.”