Time is right for new leadership, RNC chief says

Andrew Robinson
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Asked Thursday afternoon why he wanted to become a police officer in the first place, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief Robert Johnston said it was always something he wanted to do.
"As long as I can remember, I think even back in high school, it was something that I wanted to do," said Johnston, a 35-year veteran of the provincial police force.

RNC Chief Robert Johnston speaks about his experiences on the force as he announced his retirement Thursday.  — Photos by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

On Thursday, Johnston announced his policing career will soon come to an end. An officer who joined the RNC in 1979 and became its chief 31 years later, Johnston will retire at the end of February.

The decision to retire was not a spur-of-the-moment one for Johnston.

"I have almost 35 years completed in policing and I've enjoyed almost every day as a police officer, and as chief and as a leader, I believe you should leave an organization when people say, 'Why?' as opposed to, 'Why not.' When I came in as chief, I had a number of goals in mind, and most of those I've completed."

Amongst those goals was seeing through to completion the redevelopment of the RNC headquarters at Fort Townshend in St. John's. That building was officially opened the day before Johnston's announcement.

Johnston also noted the RNC's corporate plan is set to expire in 2014 and that work to develop a strategic plan for the next three years will commence shortly.

"I believe whomever is going to lead that strategic planning process should stay around and execute the plan," he said.

Johnston's wife, Gloria Taylor Johnston, retired just over a year ago from a career in education.

"She's my best friend, so there's some things that I think we'd both like to do. I have no idea what the future will bring for her or the both of us, but this is probably the first time in my life that I don't really have a plan."

Johnston was deputy chief and responsible for the RNC's criminal operations division before he succeeded former chief Joe Browne in May 2010. He also spent time in several different divisions of the police force - criminal investigations, criminal intelligence, crisis negotiations, VIP security and tactical response.


RNC Supt. James Carroll spent almost 12 years in the tactics and rescue unit (TRU) with Johnston. He joined the RNC three years after Johnston in 1982 and can recall coming in contact with the now-retiring chief as a teenager at Quidi Vidi Lake.

"There was a young police crew down their, of which Chief Johnston was a part of, and I got to become good friends with him over the next couple of years. I liked what I saw. They treated me with respect."

That friendship influenced Carroll's decision to become an officer. Both men joined the TRU team in 1988. The high-risk situations it dealt with made trust between officers imperative.

"It forces beyond belief a bond, and we've been able to hold and maintain that the rest of our careers. The one thing I can tell you about Chief Johnston is that he's the same person that I met before I joined the RNC. ... He never lost his focus, his personable ability to communicate with people, his integrity, his friendship, his loyalty to people, and he's never put himself ahead of the organization or anybody else."


As can be expected in a lengthy law enforcement career, Johnston came across "some horrendous scenes."

He recalled one incident where he left home in the middle of the night to see a woman who was holding a lifeless baby - it was a victim of sudden infant death syndrome.

The woman would not let go of the baby. Johnston was a father of two young girls at the time - one is now an RNC officer stationed in Labrador.

"She wanted everybody to leave. She felt the child was going to come back to life. I was able to take the child, but the only way I could take the child was I had to go in my unmarked police car to the hospital. You remember those things."

Such events did not cause Johnston to second guess his decision to become a police officer. Among his more prominent cases, Johnston led the second investigation into the murder of Catherine Carroll - the first investigation resulted in the wrongful conviction in 1994 of her son, Gregory Parsons. It was Johnston who called Parsons after Brian Joseph Doyle confessed his crime to police.

Johnston expressed pride in watching his RNC colleagues rise to their full potential and said those who will serve the police force after he's gone will continue to engage the community and foster a workplace atmosphere that promotes respect.

"Our brand is strong enough that we're attracting some of the brightest and most compassionate Newfoundanders and Labradorians to policing, so from that point of view, the future is bright."

It remains to be seen who will succeed Johnston as RNC chief. Johnston said he has been involved in some preliminary discussion with Justice Minister Darin King - the position is a cabinet appointment.

"I will offer my thoughts ... and give them some insight into the people in the organization," said Johnston.

"We have some incredible talent and compassionate, committed people in the management ranks within the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, and ultimately cabinet will decide who and when that person will be picked to succeed me."


Geographic location: St. John's, Quidi Vidi Lake, Labrador

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Recent comments

  • crista
    February 14, 2014 - 10:16

    Reading your article and articles:WHAT A MESS????

  • Joe
    February 14, 2014 - 08:42

    In the past twenty the longest a Chief has lasted is 5 years. Next time maybe they should pick someone who will be there more than a few years so the force can have some stability.

  • Gary
    February 14, 2014 - 07:04

    Happy retirement , sad to see Chief Johnson go as i think he was one of the best Chief`s to date but life goes on so enjoy it you Sir you have earned it.