A highly honored Detroit crimefighter who helped blaze a trail for women on the force is now retiring after more than four decades on the job.
After 44 years of dedicated service, Detroit Police investigator Gayle Johnson-Brown is looking back on her career as she starts retirement. A career that involved breaking down barriers as one of the first women in the department.
“I would see the police officers in Detroit and grew up on Clairmount.” recalls Johnson-Brown. She was a young girl when seeing officers first made an impression, and years later she decided to make a career of it herself. “Thought I could make a difference and get bad guys off the streets,” she says.
In her early days on patrol, she walked the beat, rain or shine, while building relationships with citizens and fellow officers. Often, Gayle says women who were victims of crime felt comfortable speaking to another woman.
Specifically, she says “Women involved in crime felt it was easier to talk with a female. Police runs, domestic violence, B&E’s and alarms going off.”
From there, Gayle worked her way up in roles that typically were reserved for men.
“I worked on the 8th & 9th floor, that’s where prisoners were held. No women had worked up there before.” says Gayle.
Next, she became an investigator while also paving the way for her daughter to follow in her footsteps.
Now, a 23-year detective, Viera Brownlee smiles when paying tribute to her mother.
“Her challenges and obstacles she overcame, really opened up opportunities for women here at DPD. As you know Detroit Police have a higher number of women executives than any other agency.” says Viera.
During the last 44 years, there have been many challenging times including now, between police and the communities they serve. However, Gayle believes most officers wear the badge for the right reasons.
She adds “90% of the officers on this job do care, want to help and make a difference. It’s not as much racism as when I came on the job. Not as much prejudice as when I came on the job.”
Above all, she is grateful for her career, and the fond memories of helping others. Looking back, Gayle simply says “I loved my job.“ Gayle also says knowing her daughter continues making a difference investigating crimes against children as a detective, means so much to her as a proud mother.