Patrol officer, University Police Department
Before joining the Penn police force, he put in 25 years as an officer with the Philadelphia Housing Authority police.
Photo by Candace DiCarlo
Move over, Gregory Hines. Officer Floyd Johnson has some moves to show you.
Johnson performs most weekdays at evening rush hour, at the busy intersection of 36th and Walnut streets. There he is, twirling, whirling, dipping, pointing, waving and blowing his whistle, all to keep traffic flowing and to let the pedestrians cross safely and quickly.
Not only does Johnson enjoy the job. Its clear to the people who pass his corner that Johnson performs a valuable service. Have you ever seen it when hes not there? said Joan Bobroff, the office manager at Penn Hillel, where we spoke with Johnson. Let me tell you, there is a major difference when he is not there. People dont believe in red lights.
Johnson expounded on that statement and other lessons learned in years of observing traffic during our interview.
Q. What led you to join the Penn Police?
A. After I had 25 years of service in [the] housing [police], I figured it was time for me to move on and I figured that Penn was a good spot to stop at. And I was correct.
Q. What did you do on housing patrol?
A. I was catching drug dealers, purse snatchers, having domestic problems, you name it, I was doing it.
Q. Isnt traffic detail a bit of a comedown?
A. No, its a come-up. Cause I was down in the ditch working. So now Im up on the mountaintop looking down at people. [laughs]
Q. What did you do at first when you arrived on campus?
A. Well, when I first arrived, I was doing regular patrol work. I think my first traffic assignment was 38th and Spruce on move-in. I always did like traffic.
Q. What did you like about it?
A. It was like a conductor conducting an orchestra. Youre going to get out there, smooth things [out], in command, just kind of take charge, its a good feeling.
Q. Whats the difference between having a cop directing traffic and
having the signals do it?
A. People run signals. A lot of times, theyre in a hurry, theyll claim they cant see the signals. Policemen on the spot have a tendency of showing more authority than traffic lights. By them seeing me there, and they run the light, they know that I can either take their license plate [number] and mail them a ticket or I could call for a squad car to stop them down the road and give them a ticket.
Im a diversion. I stop traffic. Then I can stop [cars] from clogging up the intersection. Cause a whole lot of times, when the light changes, or the light doesnt have to change, they just run right out into the intersection. Now youve got to maneuver yourself around the car. And as soon as the cars stop, peoples tendency is stepping out in the street. As soon as the cars stop, [it doesnt matter] what they stop for, they step right out in the street. And another car comes right along. Sometimes I have to tell them, Get back on the pavement [sidewalk]. Cause a car in your chest is not a fashion statement. Doesnt look good. And I dont think it feels good.
Q. Are there any challenges in your job?
A. After being around a long time, sometimes I think theres nothing new that could be shown to me, but sometimes they fool me.
I had a little old lady tell me, You stopped me and wouldnt let me cross the street cause I had the green light. I said, Yes, but an ambulance is coming. See, you dont want to come out in the street and get run over by the ambulance, would you? But I had the light. I said, OK, I said, next time you get the light, Ill make sure you get across the street. She was just as happy as she could be as she walked away.
Q. Any safety tips for the people crossing the street?
A. Sure. Watch whats going on, and not so much watching the light. The pedestrian doesnt always have the right of way. Why would you walk out in front of a car when you know this car aint going to stop? That isnt going to help you out at all. You might get a lawsuit, but you might be dead. When the cop on the corner tells you to stay there, then stay there. That way he can get you across.
Thats the main purpose I was put there, to make sure the pedestrian gets across the street safely. Cause when they [drivers] come across 34th Street, if they catch that light at 34th Street, sometimes I have to get out of the way. I can look up and see these turkeys coming and [its] like theyre driving on the expressway.
What they need is a couple of those road blocks, where you see those bumps in the road, if you ride across that, you mess up your front end. Or put a light in between 34th and 36th. Its too long of a stretch. Im surprised that we dont have many accidents, or pedestrians getting hit from 34th to 36th Street, the way some of those people come through there. [Johnson stated that there have been no injuries or fatalities at the intersection while he was directing traffic there.]
Q. Any tips for the drivers?
A. Slow down! Youre not on the expressway. Slow down. Theres other people out there, and Im sorry is not going to do it. You cant be in that big a hurry. Sometimes, you drive so fast, you miss things.
Originally published on November 8, 2001