‘Liberia Peaceful, But Hard’

Heinz Joshua Johnson

.... Liberian-born U.S. Police Officer shares impressions of the security sector; calls for more support to LNP, other state security agencies

Heinz Joshua Johnson had a choice of two career paths in life — to serve his country as a security professional or as a broadcaster. After having graduated from high school in Monrovia, he started shopping around for the right fit and tried to make up his mind. 

As any individual serious about his future would do, he did all the research he could. This included picking the brains of some of the nation’s most seasoned security experts who advised him that it would not be a wise choice as a young man to join since the government at the time — former President Charles Taylor’s administration — had a tainted human rights record. 

So he chose broadcasting, which came to him rather naturally, though he now found himself tasting the wrath of the very state he had wanted to serve. The radio station he worked for at the time, Radio Monrovia, founded by his mentor, Charles Snetter, was a frequent target of attacks by forces loyal to President Taylor. 

It did not take long for Heinz to make up his mind to, as Liberians would put it, “find his way” — to literally excuse himself — leaving the country for safer ground. He traveled to the United States, where he sought to enter the broadcasting field. 

“But it’s hard to break into broadcasting as a foreigner in the US,” Heinz told the Daily Observer. “There are so many barriers, especially if you weren't trained there; or even because of the accent — you will sound too strange on air.” 

This assessment informed his decision to pursue a career in the security sector. So he enrolled in college and got a degree in Homeland security and emergency management, from Concordia University, Portland, Oregon. 

While studying for his degree, he worked as a private security guard and, after graduation, started to work higher profile jobs in the security sector, including in the US Department of State. 

Now a patrol officer from the Sixth District in the police force that serves the capital city of the United States, Washington D.C., Heinz works from a unique vantage point, occasionally serving alongside federal law enforcement as well as serving at the municipal level. 

Accidental Trainer

“I have been out of Liberia for over twenty years but I never forget that I am from here,” Heinz said.  “While I am now living in America and serving under oath to defend and protect lives and properties in Washington D.C., I am never forgetful of the fact that I was born and raised in Liberia.”

Occasionally, Heinz has had the opportunity to visit the land of this birth. But this time was different. In late November, he came to attend the wedding of a relative when he accidentally got roped into networking with leaders in Liberia’s security sector and lecturing some members of the Armed Forces of Liberia. 

During his spare time in the country, he was invited by his long-time friend, Major General Prince Charles Johnson, III, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) who asked if he could one day visit Liberia and talk to soldiers.

“I told him that I am only a Police officer, but he said I should talk to the MPs (Military Police) since they support the Liberia National Police (LNP). So I went to Kesselly Barracks and we had a good two hours interactive discussion on what we do.”

 “I did not just lecture them,” he said, adding that his visit with the Army was interactive and helped not only bring forth new ideas but also enforced the basic principles of Constitutional duties.”

“The reformed Armed Forces of Liberia is a force for good and Liberians should be proud of the military,” he said, sharing his impressions about the Army.  “General Prince C. Johnson III, is a disciplined man and that he has brought to the Army. The soldiers are trained and they are a great inspiration to anyone who wishes to join the Army.” 

Police ‘poorly funded’

Heinz said he also had an opportunity to meet with the Inspector General of the LNP, Patrick Sudue. According to him the visit was rather propitious, since he did not have an appointment, yet he was well received.

 Heinz noted he had the chance to discuss the practice of policing in Liberia, especially as the country prepares for national elections in 2023. 

“This is just my candid opinion as a career police officer. I am not speaking on behalf of any institution or anyone. LNP is kind of poorly funded from what I’ve been gathering,” Heinz explained as he shared the outcome of his meeting with Patrick Sudue, Inspector General (IG), and his deputy.

According to him, no security apparatus can do better or live up to the expectation of any country when there is not enough support. He said the police need the required support as the country goes to elections next year.

“Everybody wants security but nobody wants to pay for security. They need more training and logistical support in order to not only cater for the coming elections, as they have always been doing, but also to continue maintaining their day-to-day general security detail across the country.”

As part of his discussions with the LNP Inspector General, Heinz disclosed that he is a member of the Association of Liberian Law Enforcement Officers, based in America, which looks for ways to network and support the LNP.

Security Situation

“Since my last visit, I have been out of Liberia for ten years. Each time I come here, I don’t feel comfortable just going around merrymaking. I am interested in making contributions to conversations of interest, particularly those that are security related,” he noted.

But there is a recurring theme that he noticed throughout his recent visit: “while Liberia is at peace, it is hard”. 

“We hear things happen but they are speculations. There is no fear in this country right now, but hardship is here.” He said. “When you get peace, everything else falls under but there can still be issues; they say peace and tranquility work together. That means economic stability comes in and that is the problem with Liberia.”

According to him, if there is no food on the table for a family to eat, they become bitter and their bitterness can possibly extend to a neighborhood, a community or the whole country.

“Before friends in Liberia used to call people visiting from the U.S. and take them out for [entertainment] but nowadays, as you land in the country, many would want you to do for them many things, even the least you expect that a friend would ask of you. This is troubling and it diminishes the dignity of a people. I hope things get better soon,” Johnson continued.

About the security of the country, he added that the negative news would make anyone afraid of visiting Liberia but the truth is that the country is peaceful and not hostile like many other countries around the world.

He said there is no need for fear but it is important that the lives of the citizens improve through a performing economy.

‘Need for more training’

“I was part of George Floyd riot control. I was also part of the January 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., where there were lots of clashes.”

 “I have been involved with active shooting situations and General Johnson decided to use my experience to talk to them and they were overwhelmed. They really wished they could have us doing this more. They expressed a desire to have more of these kinds of training.”

Heinz said he talked about rapid response, moral ethics, or using one’s moral judgment in service to the country.

“Not submitting to a political party is important. You serve the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia, not a political party or any politician. I took my oath on the Constitution of the United States of America against foreign and domestic threats and I am there to serve the Country through the D.C. Police force. This is what everyone should live up to,” he noted.

He disclosed that he also told the Military Police Officers to always respect civilians as they serve the country, whether in supporting the Liberia National Police or at the barracks.

“We are in the uniforms because of civilians. They pay us through taxes. We must respect them at all times,” he pointed out. 

Heinz has been extended an invitation by General Johnson to next year’s AFL Day celebration (February 11) as his special guest. “I will not be representing any agency but coming in my own capacity,” Heinz said.