7 minute read

The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s race has no doubt been one to watch this year. 

In the wake of Black Lives Matter marches throughout the U.S., the conversation between Democratic candidate Wayland Cubit (on the left in the feature photo) and Republican candidate Tommie Johnson is consequential as either will become the county’s first Black sheriff. 

Cubit, an Oklahoma City Police Department lieutenant, and Johnson, a master police officer at the Norman Police Department, continuously critiqued each other’s experience throughout the debate. This was arguably the focal point of most issues discussed. 

From Johnson’s perspective, Cubit symbolizes the outdated ways of law enforcement and, for Cubit, Johnson lacks the leadership experience needed to serve as sheriff. 

The debate was hosted and moderated by NonDoc’s editor-in-chief, Tres Savage, and Aaron Brilbeck from News 9

The debate topics included professional experience, the County Jail, ICE, and how the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office needs to change. 

With less than a month left until the November elections, Free Press will be providing coverage of races in the Oklahoma City metro area in depth. By doing so, we hope that you, the reader, gain a better understanding of the choices that you will have on November 3.

The Resumé and The Plan

From the start, the candidates were asked to show voters what makes them qualified to be sheriff. 

Johnson started off by touting his experience at the Norman Police Department including negotiating budgets and leading a multi-jurisdictional team. 

He also mentioned that he has a concrete plan ready to implement if elected, the top priority being getting funds for body cameras at the sheriff’s department. 

Cubit explained that he is more qualified than Johson due to his 24 years of experience in law enforcement but agrees that there needs to be body cameras implemented in the county sheriff’s office. 

The topic of body-worn cameras provoked one of the first disagreements in the debate. 

Johnson laid out concrete numbers—his estimates are approximately $150,000 to start the program and $65,000 to maintain it for the following years. Cubit responded by saying that Johnson’s estimates are inaccurate, which he believes is due in part to Johnson’s lack of experience managing a body camera program.

Cubit also said that he would not want any organization to contribute the body cameras – as Johnson proposed – because people don’t give without wanting something in return. And, the Sheriff’s office should not owe someone a favor. Instead, Cubit said he would use federal grants.

Johnson argued that he considers Cubit’s critiques hypocritical as Cubit himself has not proposed a concrete plan to make the program happen. Cubit then turned back to his experience and said that a plan is not enough because it can easily falter when put to practice.

ICE

The moderators asked the candidates about their thoughts on whether or not ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officers should be permanently stationed in the county jail. 

Johnson believes that ICE being in the jail is “not a racial issue,” which is referring to the controversy behind ICE conducting raids in predominantly Hispanic communities. 

He went on to mention that by having ICE in the county jail, it would increase communication between federal immigration authorities and local law enforcement. This would then make communities in Oklahoma County safer in his view. 

Cubit did not support ICE being in the county jail because it deters immigrant community members from wanting to communicate with the sheriff’s office out of fear of being deported.

He also mentioned that there is no need for ICE in the county jail since they could communicate when a federal judge had issued a warrant, not the requests that are in existence now.

Systemic Racism and Policing

The candidates were asked if they think there is systemic racism in policing and if they or someone they know has been discriminated against by the police due to race. 

Cubit articulated that he believes racism exists in America but that it’s not inherently the structure of the police that is racist. He said that Oklahoma in general has some strong programs for racial bias training but there is still need for improvement at the sheriff’s office. 

Johnson echoed similar feelings and said that diversity is important for police because law enforcement needs to reflect its community. Both candidates said that they never felt discriminated against by the police but have heard stories. 

Savage pointed out that an NPD officer sent an internal email of a meme that compared Klan members from the movie Django Unchained to wearing a mask. Savage then asked if that was an example of systemic racism. 

Johnson explained that there was no bad intention behind the email and that he personally spoke with the officer. 

Cubit said “[it] might be funny in the movie, but it’s not funny in my email box” as he explained that the person might later become someone who makes policies for the sheriff’s office. 

Improving Trust 

Cubit and Johnson were asked how they would improve community trust in the police. 

Johnson said that school resource officers would serve as a great way for children to learn about law enforcement and further develop trust.

Cubit used his after school program that helps troubled youth in low-income and high-crime areas as an example of how to decrease crime and increase trust in the police. 

Johson responded by saying that Cubit can not justifiably use that example as a way to build community trust when there is still an issue today with police-community relations. 

Just to note, the Oklahoma City Police Department, where Cubit currently works, was ranked second in the nation for people killed by police according to one study.

Mental Health Training 

Cubit and Johnson were asked what mental health training they received on the job. 

Johnson said he received annual training and that there needs to be more of it. 

He also said that law enforcement is crucial for many mental health services because police help keep mental health professionals safe when they are de-escalating a situation. 

Cubit said that he teaches de-escalation training and that police are actually great at doing it but only the mistakes are reported. 

The debate ended with closing statements from both candidates. 

Johnson’s closing argument is that the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office needs new leadership and that he can bring that. Plus, he believes that he has a plan and that Cubit does not. 

And, Cubit’s closing argument was that he has spent enough time in law enforcement and supervision to be qualified unlike Johnson. 

To learn more, see the Free Press interviews from earlier by Tommie Johnson and Wayland Cubit.


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