A Columbus Cop Went Viral For Dancing. Now He's Talking To Harvard Students

Apr 20, 2017

A Columbus Police officer known as "the dancing cop" to some because of his community policing efforts, will take his message back to Harvard University next week.

Officer Anthony Johnson got recognition after a video of him dancing with South Side residents posted on YouTube two years ago. Johnson says he uses his dance moves to develop relationships with residents, so they see the human side of an officer and will feel more comfortable talking to police.

Johnson's address to Harvard students will be his second. In November, Robert Livingston, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard, asked Johnson to come to the school to discuss community policing in two master's classes with the ACLU's Laura Murphy.

Johnson says that building relationships with the community is made easier with music.

"To me it just comes natural," Johnson says. "I feel like dancing is an easy way to relate to anyone, no matter what situation they're in. So you know, any time I get a chance to get out of my car and dance with somebody, I take full advantage of it."

Johnson says that people's impressions of officers change when they see their "human side," in contrast to the image of police as aggressive.

"I grew up in the inner city, on the east side of Columbus, and I actually grew up not a fan of the police," Johnson. "It actually took me to meet a police officer when I was 18 who showed me his human side, who got me on the right track."

According to Johnson, that senior officer suggested he go back to the community he was raised in to help continue that work.

Fixing community-police relations won't happen quickly in Columbus, especially after a very different viral video emerged last week of a city officer kicking a handcuffed suspect in the head.

"I feel like I'm personally responsible to combat the negative media that's portrayed on the officers," Johnson says.

Such incidents don't affect his community work, Johnson insists, and he won't let another officer's actions change his rapport.

Johnson says that protecting and serving requires getting to know people on an individual basis. That means people end up reaching out to him before they even contact 911 dispatchers or even the regular police department.

"I don't really look at it as community policing," Johnson says. "I just look at it as doing my job."