COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — It started with a need for structure.
“I wanted to go into the military right after high school,” said Johannah Owusu, 23, a patrol officer with the Columbus Police Department. “I am a very structured person, and I function best where there’s a lot of structure and discipline. I grew up as an only child, and I wanted that sense of family and belonging.”
She chose the Navy, because of a childhood spent competitive swimming.
“I’ve always been a fish,” she said. “Mom had me start swimming at three months old, and I started swimming competitively when I was probably 5 or 6.”
A heart condition stopped Owusu’s dreams dead in their tracks, “and it was the worst heartbreak I’d ever had. It took me a couple of years, but I decided that law enforcement was the next best thing. I saw the same ‘all in it for one mission’ mindset, and the pull of protecting something other than the self.”
Owusu, a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, had moved to the area as a child when her mother relocated to be nearer to her grandparents. In her late teens, she started working as a dispatcher in Lowndes County and began to get to know many of the local officers. Once she turned 21, she applied to join CPD and was hired on Oct. 19 of last year. She has been “on the road” since mid-April of this year.
She said she loves the job.
“I don’t feel like there is anything quite like being out there,” she said. “Some of the law enforcement officers who were and still are my friends have a sense that it’s us versus everybody else. I don’t get that separation out on the streets. When you have an ‘us versus them’ outlook, it’s a lot scarier being out there. You see the narrative of police officers in the media, it’s almost like they’re scared of everyone or everyone’s out to get them. But it’s just everyday people. It’s nothing so far out or foreign.”
People are, by and large, relatable, she said.
“My mom is a social worker, and her job for many years was at the Center for Nonviolence in Fort Wayne, and she also worked at a homeless shelter,” she said. “She taught me that you never look down on people, because no one grows up saying they want to be something that we look at negatively. My mom had a hard childhood, and she could have been right there. That’s something that I had to get eye-to-eye with.”
Owusu lives in Starkville, but said she loves Columbus for how much variation is found in such a small place.
“It’s kind of rough and tumble, and I’m a rough and tumble girl,” she said. “I’ve lived in Starkville for the past three years, but when you think about the surrounding cities there’s really nothing like Columbus. You have a little bit of everything. You have a little bit of Briarwood, a little bit of Railroad Street, a little bit of Highway 45. They’re all completely different, and then you have some of the more country places, like Co-Op Road. It’s all encompassed in a little city, and it’s nice.”
She said she’s had few of the problems she expected becoming a cop when she did.
“I’ve never had an instance where people tried to record me, or people were being antagonistic,” she said. “That surprised me because of what was going on when I joined. People were always suspecting (police) were going to do the worst, or that they were going to catch us when we did. I haven’t had that happen.”
She also said she has been lucky in that she has had very few problems with people being violent.
“I’ve never been in a fight before, but I try not to let that stick in my head when I get on a scene,” she said. “It could always be different. I don’t know if it has to do with me being a Black female, or that I’m five feet and have the voice that I do. I know I sound like a 12-year-old. I don’t know what attribute it is, or whatever they get from me, but it helps me out a lot.”
She said she’s happy being in patrol, and wants to stay there.
“I don’t aspire to be in a specialized force, like (the Criminal Investigations Division),” she said. “I will probably be on patrol until I can’t anymore. I like interacting with people as much as I can, and I think staying in patrol will be the best way for me to do that.”