Retirement for Bob Johnston | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Retirement for Bob Johnston

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

His first day on the job was supposed to be July 5, 1971. But Bob Johnston got started a day early because a riot broke out on a Tahoe beach between hippies and bikers.

30 years and six months later, after working crowd control when the bomb exploded at Harveys; after being in charge of the SWAT and Search and Rescue teams; after winning a battle against alcohol, Johnston retires a detective sergeant at the El Dorado Sheriff’s Tahoe substation Jan 4.

You first see Johnston and you know he is a cool customer. He wears three rings, one on each pinky. He keeps his silver hair combed straight and a tall frame gives him a powerful presence. Even his screen saver, a Harley Davidson symbol, is cool.

The screen saver is not just for show. Johnston owns a black 1999 Harley Road King that’s already seen 32,000 miles of open road. He sold his last bike after he rode it 150,000 miles.

But underneath the cool exterior is the desire to protect and serve the public.

“I’ve known Bob 29 years. He’s committed to law enforcement and that’s a high compliment,” said El Dorado County Sheriff’s Capt. Ernie Hillman. “One of Bob’s strongest points, in my estimation, is his organizational skills.”

Johnston, 54, a past president and longtime member of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, plans to use those skills in retirement. He said he may go into labor negotiations or do some drug and alcohol counseling.

Johnston quit drinking in 1994 and has been sober for eight years. His drinking problem got him temporarily demoted to deputy, but Johnston credits former Sheriff Don McDonald for giving him another chance.

“Everyone runs into bumpy roads and it’s all about how you handle those type of adversities,” Hillman said. “I have a lot of respect for how he handled it. He took the bull by the horns. He had an opportunity to do something positive and he did it.”

Johnston held two jobs before he became a sheriff’s deputy. The first came in 1966 when he enlisted with the U.S. Navy and served three years as an aircraft electrician. In 1969, he got a job loading limestone onto box cars.

After about a year at El Dorado Limestone, Johnston got the call from the Sheriff’s Department. Like his father, a police chief in Folsom, Calif., and his grandfather, a prison guard in Folsom, he went into law enforcement.

Johnston said his ability to focus on what he’s doing “today” has helped him succeed. His philosophy as supervisor of detectives is to “provide my guys with the tools they need to do the job.” He said he gets satisfaction knowing he’s working for victims of crime.

The keys to success in law enforcement are simple, he said. Deputies should maintain “common sense and a sense of fairness, honesty and integrity.”

As he cruises into retirement, Johnston said he plans to take the winter and summer off and relax at his home in Cameron Park. He hopes to spend more time with his wife, Carol, because since he began working at Tahoe in 1999, he has had to live at a South Shore apartment during the work week, only getting home on the weekends.

Then, of course, there’s always his Harley. His wife has one, too.

“You get the sights without the glass and metal. You get the feel of the climate,” Johnston said. “I use it as stress relief. I can get on a Harley and go 45 minutes and forget about this job.”


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