Retired El Paso police Sgt. Dwain Leon Johnson, Sr., one of the men credited with starting Crime Stoppers of El Paso – the second crime stoppers program in the country — died Aug. 23, 2023, in El Paso. He was 80.

Johnson, at the request of police department leaders, went to Albuquerque in the mid-1970s to learn more about the first crime stoppers program that brought together media, community and law enforcement to solve crimes. El Paso established its crime stoppers program in November 1978.

Police would work through the media to share certain details of a crime and ask the public to report what they might know about the crime or the suspects. The anonymous tips could lead to monetary rewards.

Friends, family and former colleagues and supervisors remembered Johnson as a strong, supportive and friendly leader. Others described him as a generous man with a quick smile and big heart who loved to hike in the Franklins and bake in his kitchen. One of his Westside neighbors lowered his U.S. flag to half-staff to honor the Navy veteran.

Retired El Paso Police Sgt. Dwain Johnson died on Aug. 23. He spent 25 years with the police department. (Courtesy photo)

Northeast resident Margie Velez considered Johnson a buddy. She was involved in her Neighborhood Watch and PTA when she served on the first Crime Stoppers board as its secretary. She often met him at Rosco’s Burger Inn on Tompkins Road to catch up.

“He was a kind man and dedicated to crime prevention,” Velez said. “He loved his family, and he loved his work. He just wanted to prevent crime.”

According to the Crime Stoppers of El Paso website, since the program’s inception, it has received tips that have led to more than 4,700 arrests, 6,400 cases cleared, the recovery of more than $4 million in property, and the removal of over $48 million of narcotics off the streets. The program has issued more than $1 million in rewards to tipsters.

Johnson’s wife, Letty Johnson, said her husband had been in failing health for the past 10 years and was mostly bedridden since 2021. He entered hospice care on Aug. 4 and died at the Monte Vista at Coronado.

“He was a beautiful, wonderful human being,” she said. “I was lucky to have known him and to have loved him. There will never be another like him.”  

Joe Molinar, District 4’s representative, attends a City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 20. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Northeast city Rep. Joe Molinar said Johnson was his supervisor for five years while a homicide detective in the Crimes Against Persons unit. He said he always was ready to share ideas or offer an encouraging word when a case looked stalled.

“He was a man of action,” said Molinar, who kept in touch with Johnson. “He was firm in his belief that we were there to do a job for the victims and their families. He made good things happen.”

Former El Paso Police Chief John Scagno said he worked with Johnson frequently when Johnson led Crimes Against Persons. He recalled Johnson as an upbeat person who was a very good officer and an excellent supervisor.

El Paso Police Chief John Scagno, appointed Feb. 24, 1987.

“His passing is a loss to the city and all of us,” said Scagno, who led the department from 1987 until his retirement in 1996.

Johnson was born in Lindsborg, Kansas, and grew up in Lakeport Northern, California. He enlisted in the Navy after high school and served for seven years. He moved to El Paso in 1969, and joined the police department in 1971 and served for 25 years. He graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso in 1975 with a degree in criminal justice. He also is a 1982 graduate of the FBI National Academy.  According to Letty Johnson, the city of El Paso honored her husband with a Conquistador Award for his work with Crime Stoppers of El Paso.

Bill Pfeil, retired El Paso police sergeant and former department public affairs director, was part of the same academy class as Johnson in 1971. He said prior to joining the police force, Johnson had been a butcher. They served as patrol partners in the Ascarate Park area as one of their first assignments.

He said the proof that Johnson was a good officer was that the department put him in charge of the Crime Stoppers and Crimes Against Persons programs. Leadership recognized his everyman work ethic and empathy for people.

“Those were plum assignments, and he was good at them,” he said.

Johnson is survived by his wife, Letty, their son, Michael, his wife, Erica, and their sons, Lyndon and Lincoln, as well as Johnson’s son, Dwain L. Johnson, Jr., and granddaughter Kristina. 

Sunset Funeral Homes – West, 480 N. Resler, will handle the services on Tuesday, Aug. 29. Visitation will be from 2 to 6 p.m. Navy honors will be conducted at 3:30 p.m. followed by El Paso Police Department honors at 3:45 p.m. A Rosary will be said at 4 p.m.

Daniel Perez covers higher education for El Paso Matters, in partnership with Open Campus. He has written on military and higher education issues in El Paso for more than 30 years.