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Top cop makes policing vow despite shock Motor Neurone Disease diagnosis

One of West Midlands Police’s most senior officers has vowed to continue serving the public for as long as possible despite his Motor Neurone Disease (MND) diagnosis − and has urged all employers to look past disability when recruiting.

Chris Johnson achieved a career ambition in April last year when he was promoted to Assistant Chief Constable with his hometown police force after 28 years working his way up from beat bobbie on the streets of Birmingham.

But just six months later he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease − a terminal illness affecting the brain, spinal cord and nerves that ultimately stops muscles functioning. 

Despite the devastating news 52-year-old Chris is determined to carry on making an important contribution to policing in the West Midlands and keeping the public safe.

He said: “In 28 years I’d only ever had two days off sick and that was following an assault on duty. I just never really got ill − I didn’t even get coughs and colds − so the diagnosis was, it’s fair to say, a bit of a surprise.

“You really never know when life can change. Disability is not just something that happens to other people − it can also affect you when you are least expecting it. 

“With people working longer and retiring later it is an issue that will affect workplaces more and more. I am proud that West Midlands Police recognises this, for me and other staff with disabilities, and is committed to workplace inclusivity."

In his role as ACC Chris is responsible for the Operations portfolio overseeing traffic policing, dogs, response units, contact centre and firearms, plus other specialist police teams.

It’s a busy, demanding job that typically involves long and irregular hours.

But ACC Johnson − a former Police Commander in Birmingham and Dudley − said the force has made some “simple and cheap adaptations" to allow him to continue working.

And he hopes that by speaking out he can encourage other employers to also take on and retain staff with disabilities.

ACC Chris Johnson
ACC Chris Johnson

He added: “There is no reason why people with disabilities shouldn’t give consideration to West Midlands Police as an employer. The support I’ve received has been remarkable − the force has made some simple, cheap adaptations to my working environment and conditions which enable me to continue making a valuable contribution.

“I would hate to think people with disabilities are being overlooked for jobs because companies suspect that accommodating their needs is too costly or too much hassle.

“All employers should be able to look beyond disability and make staffing decisions based on people’s skills and suitability for the job. Recruitment decision-makers need to focus on what people can do… not what they can’t."

Away from work Chris ’ priority is to spend time with his family and make memories they can cherish.

He added: “I am under the neurological team at the QE hospital and they are supporting me very well. Basically it is a terminal illness so there is no cure, but you can manage some of the symptoms. I have this illness and there is nothing I can do about that but I do have a choice about how I feel about it. And I choose not to let it define me.

“Of course I would rather not have it, for me and my family. Especially for my family. Two of my children are very young and not knowing what the future holds for them… it’s hard. But I can’t do anything about it. So I choose to be positive.

“For me being positive means carrying on with my job. And I am very lucky and grateful that I am able to do that."

For more information about Motor Neurone Disease visit the MND Association.

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