If former Lt. Houston Johnson, a 20-year veteran of the Harker Heights Police Department, ever had any doubts about being well respected, dearly loved or appreciated, the response to his retirement ceremony on Jan. 12 put those thoughts to rest.
Close to 200 fellow first responders, city employees, community and county leaders and residents met in the Activities Center at the Stewart C. Meyer Public Library to share gifts, congratulations and personal words of gratitude with Johnson, who upon retirement is joining the staff of Grace Christian Center in Killeen.
Johnson joined the HHPD in 1997. Prior to that, he was a deputy sheriff in Young County. He worked in narcotics and was deputy commander of the Cross Timbers Task Force for a number of years. He also worked narcotics with a covert operations team that existed for a short period of time that assisted other task forces across Texas who had higher technology and surveillance capabilities.
In the Weatherford-Parker County area of North Texas, he worked with the STOP Narcotics Task Force before coming to work in Harker Heights.
Harker Heights Police Chief Mike Gentry said, “We brought Houston in as I became chief in 1995 because there were a specific number of issues that needed to be dealt with, especially narcotics, in addition to criminal and vice investigations.
“He was assigned to the Central Texas Narcotics Task Force and worked in other areas such as sexually oriented businesses that were prevalent in that day,” Gentry said. “I will hasten to say, find one now! Most of those troublesome issues for the city 25 years ago that have been brought under control have Houston’s fingerprints on them.”
Johnson helped HHPD administer some rather complex undercover investigations that brought complete change to the city, Gentry said.
Seventeen years ago, Johnson was promoted to lieutenant within the department, then took over as the patrol division commander followed by a transfer to lead the Criminal Investigations Division.
“During his 20-plus years of service, he has been involved in almost every significant incident and case that has occurred in this city,” Gentry said.
Johnson had a total of 30 years experience in law enforcement.
During the ceremony, more than 30 people in the audience came forward and publicly expressed their appreciation or presented gifts to Johnson.
Just a few of those included: Henry Garza — Bell County District Attorney’s Office, Chuck Kimble —Killeen Police Department, Paul Sims — Harker Heights Fire Department, David Mitchell — city of Harker Heights, Chris Zimmer — Fort Hood EMS and Gary Bates — director of technology for the city of Harker Heights.
Bates said, “Besides Houston’s accomplished police career, he was one of the first information technologists for the city. It wasn’t his official title but he took on the challenge of solving its technology problems.
“During a large sewer construction project, he had the foresight to ask for two pieces of fiber optic conduit be placed under Highway 190. Because of that, our technology abilities and growth in that area were greatly enhanced.”
Others who spoke of their time working with Johnson were members of the HHPD Swat Team and eight members of the Criminal Investigation Team.
Detective Chris Hinckley said he’s known Johnson for about 10 years.
“My relationship with him began when I was working at Target in charge of evidence protection. Target is a national sponsor of National Night Out. He would always say, ‘Bring your family with you and we can all ride together.’ He would let the kids flip on the siren and the lights in his unit. I’ve always wanted to be a police officer, but I was already into my retail career and married and that seemed a distant dream,” Hinckley said.
“Houston and some other officers I knew made me feel like this was something I could actually pursue. He was the first one to put that bug in my ear, included my family in it and got my kids excited about it that really meant a lot to me.
“I came to HHPD in 2012 and he’s been my boss the entire time. I’ve been promoted by him and put on the hostage negotiation team but what I want to share about him is that a couple of years ago I was at home in Temple and lost my wife,” he said.
“One day of so many others like it as I worked through that ordeal, I just walked out onto the porch and collapsed. I was lost and never felt so alone in my life.
“At one point, I felt an arm around me and realized that this person was crying harder than I was. When I looked up it, was my lieutenant, Houston Johnson. I didn’t know how he got there or how he found out what I was going through, but looking back on that moment, he showed me that I was not alone,” Hinckley said.
“Both professionally and personally, he’s the man I count on and the one I call and there are others just like me. By the way, to be fair, he cries during every episode of ‘Cops.’”
Johnson’s wife, Heidi, said she wasn’t surprised by the accolades and outpouring of support at the ceremony.
“It was expected and I knew it was what people were gonna say because I see it every day,” she said.
The Johnsons have three children, Julie, Riley and Joaqun. Riley was the only one of his children who was able to be present at the celebration.
A deeply emotional Johnson began his thoughts by saying that it was his children who had paid the highest price for his years of service.
“There were countless holidays, school programs, and family events missed because of the calling of the work I was involved in. They loved me unconditionally, as did their mother, and have always been very understanding,” he said.
Johnson said, “I look around the room and I remember so many personal stories. There were some of you who lost someone or needed help. I loved helping all of you and appreciate so much you coming out to help me celebrate this day. Even though it is to recognize my career, it is more about all of you and even some who have gone on before.”
“This is about a wonderful team of individuals who have believed in me over and over again when I’ve asked them to trust or believe me while their instincts did not encourage them to do so. We did it so we could survive in this wonderful place.
“There’s not a better feeling than to leave a career of 30 years and having met so many people who believed in me,” Johnson said.