Local officer dedicates time to fallen brethren

After 31 years in law enforcement, Monroe Police Department (MPD) Sgt. Brian Johnston is accustomed to not always seeing people at their best. But that hasn't slowed him down.

A police officer with the department since 1984, Johnston also serves as the president of the Behind the Badge Foundation, a nonprofit agency dedicated to serving families and the agencies of law enforcement officers who have been killed or injured in the line of duty. Through his position with the foundation, Johnston has served families, communities and law enforcement agencies across Washington state during times of tragedy.

Throughout his career, Johnston has worked in both patrol and investigations. He served the Monroe community as one of Washington state's first D.A.R.E. officers and serves on the department's honor guard.

A longtime Monroe native, the father-of-two is passionate about Special Olympics and has participated in numerous fundraisers over the years.

One of his favorite things about serving in the Monroe community is the Evergreen State Fair.

"I love everything about working at the Evergreen State Fair,GÇ¥ Johnston said. "And I really like what we've done out at the Evergreen State Fair as far as our traffic control. I feel very confident that today's traffic control ' with twice or maybe even three times the amount of traffic going through here ' runs more smoothly than it did 20 to 30 years ago.GÇ¥

An accomplished bagpipe player, Johnston plays at local ceremonies, such as Sultan's Veterans Day Ceremony and Sky Valley Relay for Life. He was a member of the Greater Seattle Police Pipe Band, a pipe band that is no longer in existence. It was his role as a bagpiper that served as a catalyst for his involvement in the foundation.

Creating Behind the Badge-á

It all began in 1995, when Johnston and several other law enforcement officers made a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the National Law Enforcement Memorial. The Washington state law enforcement community was grieving at the time, having recently experienced three line-of-duty deaths in close succession. Seattle Police Officer Antonio Terry, Snohomish County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Jim Kinard and Pierce County Sheriff's Office Deputy John Bananola were all shot and killed in the line of duty.

"We all went back to Washington, D.C., as a group, and this is probably the first time the regional law enforcement members came together and did something together,GÇ¥ Johnston said. "We came back very unified.GÇ¥

Upon their return, Seattle Police Sgt. Frank Kampsen, now retired, decided that-á Washington state needed to have its own law enforcement memorial. A memorial foundation was founded, and after more than 10 years of fundraising and planning, the Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial was finally constructed.

Located in Olympia behind the Capitol's Temple of Justice, the memorial is perched on the hillside overlooking Heritage Park and Capitol Lake.

"It's one of the most beautiful locations that you can imagine,GÇ¥ Johnston said.

While the memorial foundation was dedicated to completing the memorial, a parallel agency called the 10-99 Foundation was dedicated to serving families of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. After the memorial was completed and gifted to the state in 2006, the two organizations combined, becoming what is known today as the Behind the Badge Foundation.

Honoring the fallen

Behind the Badge has the ability to deploy anywhere in the state in the event of a line-of-duty death. Johnston serves as the team leader of the foundation's Line of Duty Death Response Team, which was formalized in 2008 and is responsible for appropriately honoring fallen officers based on the needs of the families and the agencies.

In addition to planning, coordinating and orchestrating law enforcement officer memorial services, the team seeks to fill in the gaps wherever it is needed. Trained in both incident management and trauma response, team members don't control or intrude. They simply offer assistance, compassion and understanding to those grieving the loss of a loved one.

Johnston spoke during a recent Monroe Chamber of Commerce meeting about his work with Behind the Badge. He thanked his superiors at the MPD for supporting him and allowing him to be so involved.

"They have allowed me the latitude to be able to work on something that is a statewide organization,GÇ¥ Johnston said. "I'm sure that my chief would much prefer that his resources stay in-house, but there is also an effect that if anything happens here that we are going to be well taken care of.GÇ¥

And during recent years, tragedy has, indeed, struck very close to home. Twice.

On Jan. 29, 2011, Monroe Correctional Complex Officer Jayme Biendl was killed by inmate Byron Scherf in the prison chapel. Thirty-four-year-old Biendl was ambushed in the sanctuary by Scherf, who strangled her with an amplifier cord. In May 2013, Scherf was found guilty of aggravated first-degree murder and given the death penalty.

On May 31, 2013, Washington State Trooper Sean O'Connell was killed when his motorcycle was struck by another vehicle. O'Connell lived in Lake Stevens and was a member of the Monroe YMCA. Johnston remembered getting the call that O'Connell had been involved in an accident and was at Skagit Valley Hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Through his role with the foundation, he is often one of the first to receive this type of information.

"We don't share that with anybody. Until information is public we don't share it with anybody, but I do have to start calling my people and alerting them, and I have to get permission from my boss,GÇ¥ Johnston said. "So I called Ken Ginnard.GÇ¥

Deputy Chief Ken Ginnard came to work for the MPD in March 2012. Prior to coming to Monroe, Ginnard served for 26 years with the Washington State Patrol as a narcotics task force commander, trooper, sergeant, lieutenant, captain and district commander.

"What I didn't realize is I wasn't talking to Ken Ginnard, deputy chief of the Monroe Police Department,GÇ¥ Johnston said. "I was talking to Capt. Ken Ginnard of the Washington State Patrol, who Sean used to work for.GÇ¥

Sometimes a local connection might not be visible on the surface, but it still very much exists. Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton, who was gunned down on Oct. 31, 2009, attended the reserve academy in Monroe many years ago.

Johnston explained that regardless of where the officers are from, line of duty deaths are always emotional, painful and difficult to reconcile.

"There hasn't been any death of a law enforcement officer that I haven't had my own reaction to,GÇ¥ Johnston said. "I go and have it my private way. But at the time that we're working, we have a job to do.GÇ¥

A 501C3 nonprofit, Behind the Badge is funded via different fundraising events throughout the year and revenues generated through the sale of Law Enforcement Memorial license plates. LEM license plates can be purchased from any state auto-licensing facility.

For more information on Behind the Badge, visit www.behindthebadgefoundation.org.


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