Matthew Johnson remembers being pulled over, handcuffed, and searched on the New Jersey Turnpike, supposedly for driving too close to the speed limit. He recalls being stopped by the Highland Park police many times merely for walking in his central New Jersey hometown. 

Today, Johnson RC’90 is an entertainment lawyer representing glamorous clients, from Oprah Winfrey to LeBron James. But in his newest assignment—president of the five- person Los Angeles Police Commission— he must balance the interests of a city’s  competing constituencies.

“Los Angeles has the most effective and robust police commission of its kind, so it really is an incredibly powerful tool for reform and civilian oversight,” Johnson says. “It was my responsibility to engage myself in the conversation.”

Johnson wants to build stronger relationships between officers and neighborhoods, give police nonlethal tools for handling conflict, and expand training to help de-escalate confrontations and manage encounters with the mentally ill. “We have to make sure that our police department is focused on reducing crime—and in a constitutional manner,” he says.

Johnson divides his time among a demanding law practice as a managing partner of Ziffren Brittenham, a leading entertainment law firm; a host of philanthropic commitments, including a national trusteeship of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America; and a busy family life with his wife, Yasmine, and their four children.

Although today he moves in a different world, his youthful encounters with intrusive policing give him extra empathy for community members’ concerns. “You bring your collective life experiences into everything that you do,” he says, “and you hope that that creates some value.”