Delta Station changes command

Photo by Dawnmarie Fehr

Lt. Mark Johnson is the new commander of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Delta Station.

The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Delta Station has a new commander.

Lt. Mark Johnson, who has been with the sheriff’s department 21 years, assumed the position left vacant by Lt. Matt Foley last fall. Johnson, who has lived in the area since 2000, said he wanted the job as soon as he heard about it.

“It’s a position that opened up that I wanted,” Johnson said. “I expressed interest, and ultimately, they picked me to be in the spot.”

As commander of the Delta Station, Johnson will supervise all the deputies and sergeants assigned to the station. He will also attend community meetings and gatherings and generally be the face of the department in the Delta area.

Johnson has worked in many areas of the sheriff’s department during his two decades in service. From contract cities like Danville and Oakley to special assignments that include SWAT team and homeland security, Johnson has protected and served in virtually every area of the county. But working among his own neighbors makes the job that much better.

“The number one thing for me is just the people out here,” Johnson said with a smile. “I love talking to people; I love going to meetings; I love trying to help people. That’s always been my forte — that’s why I got into law enforcement and why I’ve stayed here so long.”

His love of police work was sparked when Johnson made his school’s honor roll for the first time at the age of 12. He was rewarded with a ride-along with his cousin, a Fremont police officer. Since then, his dream was to help people through law enforcement.

One thing Johnson hopes to accomplish is educating local residents about the law enforcement process. A challenge of his job, he says, is the false portrayal of the police process on TV, where suspects are caught and cases are closed neatly and completely in under one hour.

“When I go out there, I try to explain to people what we actually do, encourage people to do ride-alongs, encourage folks to talk to our people, and find out what actually happens and what an officer really does on a daily basis,” he said. “We don’t solve crimes in an hour. It takes a while.”

He further noted he also encourages his officers to talk to community members and explain the process when a report is taken, so they know what to expect from their police services.

Explaining how crimes are solved is just one kind of conversation Johnson expects his officers to have with the public. He also has another challenge in mind for them.

“What I want to do here at Delta Station is give the deputies and sergeants the goal that at least once a shift to do something that people don’t expect,” Johnson said. “What I mean by that is if they are driving down the street and they see some kids playing football, they have permission to go play football with them . . . If someone gets their house broken into, they have my permission to stay the extra 20, 30 minutes to help them fix the door until somebody gets there who can help them . . . The possibilities are endless, but just once a shift, go do something people don’t expect.”

Johnson said he hopes these kinds of interactions between his officers and the community they serve will help people realize police officers are doing more than arresting bad guys.

“We are actually there to help, no matter what that is, and that’s why most of us got into this job anyway,” he added.

This type of community policing makes Johnson a good fit for the Delta Station House, according to Tony Fontenot, crime prevention specialist for the sheriff’s department. Fontenot and Johnson both joined the department in 1998, and the two have worked together off and on over the years. Fontenot has spent the last decade at Delta Station and said Johnson’s agenda will be an important part of community participation.

“Community relations are important,” Fontenot said. “The officers who work out here are part of the community. Many of them live out here. We are made up of the community, and we can’t do our job without the participation of the community. If they don’t have any confidence or faith in what we are doing . . . our hands are tied. That’s the best thing I really appreciate about this lieutenant.”

When Johnson isn’t serving the local citizens of the Delta, he is usually coaching his teenagers’ sports teams. He said he enjoys watching them play sports and being part of his growing family.