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Johnson changes gears, opts for police work over trucking
Ben Johnson
Officer Ben Johnson of the Guyton Police Department strives to build a trusting relationship with all citizens, including children. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff
The thing that I like about the decision I made is that I don't look like everybody else.
Officer Ben Johnson

GUYTON — Ben Johnson detoured into law enforcement after putting the brakes on his dream job. The former aspiring truck driver has been a member of the Guyton Police Department for just over three weeks.

“I’m proud to be here,” Johnson said. “I’m definitely happy I made the decision.”

Johnson is a recent graduate of the Savannah Technical College Peace Officer Academy. He paid for the training himself.

“It cost me about $6,000,” he said.

Chief James Breletic of the Guyton Police Department is pleased that Johnson chose a different career path than the one he planned.

“He’s done a fantastic job,” the chief said. “He’s been with the sergeant on (field training). He’s like a brand new sponge.”

Johnson didn’t learn all he knows about police work at Savannah Tech.

“He has a commercial driver’s license,” Breletic said. “With the way trucks are driving through the area, he knows the rules.”

“Oh, yeah,” Johnson said. “I know how to find out the good stuff and the bad stuff.”

Johnson’s greatest asset is his willingness to be involved in the community, the chief explained.

“That’s the philosophy that we want as we go forward,” said Breletic, who took command of the Guyton Police Department in March.

Breletic thinks Johnson has the proper demeanor to deal with the public in even the most trying situations.

“To uphold the law, we are going to try to do it with kindness,” Breletic said.

Johnson said his Savannah Tech training focused on interpersonal skills and cultural sensitivity more than other topics.

“It’s about learning how to de-escalate (situations),” he said. “Basically, it’s using your mouth instead of your taser and other stuff.”

Johnson grew up wanting to become a truck driver but started considering law enforcement because of a couple police officers in his family. He greatly respects them and the role they play in their community.

“The thing that I like about the decision I made is that I don’t look like everybody else,” Johnson said in reference to his black skin. “A lot of people like it. I’m transparent and I speak from the heart.”

The Guyton Police Department’s jurisdiction covers 3.2 square miles of diversity.

“I think there are 2,080 souls who live here but our ‘ghost’ population doubles or triples that,” Breletic said. “By ‘ghost’ population, I mean transients — people that work here, people who shop and eat food here, people that travel through here, and logging companies. That’s your transient population.”

Johnson strives to build trusting relationships with everyone even if they are just passing through, especially children. He recently stopped an ice cream truck and bought much of its contents for youngsters in one neighborhood.

In addition, Guyton Police Department patrol cars carry teddy bears and coloring books that are frequently distributed to kids.

“I want to get people where they are not scared of us,” Johnson said.