Norman Police officer Tommie Johnson III has come a long way since he first announced his campaign for Oklahoma County Sheriff in February.
In the June Republican primaries, Johnson was running against Sheriff P.D. Taylor and former Oklahoma County deputy sheriff Mike McCully.
None of the candidates were able to claim a majority vote in their favor, which strung out the primaires to an August run off election with Taylor and Johnson.
Despite coming in second to Taylor in the June primaries, Johnson won the runoff election with roughly 60% of the vote. Now, the Norman master police officer is running against Democrat Wayland Cubit.
On Wednesday, October 7, Free Press had the chance to speak with Johnson over the phone to talk about his campaign.
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 you will have on November 3.
Johnson told us that his top priority is having the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Deputies wear body cameras.
“[Not having body cameras] is such a liability to a county, and if you look where we’re at in 2020, the landscape of our country, body cams offer accurate representation[s] of everything that happens on the scenes” he told Free Press.
The Norman police officer is so avid for his proposed change to the county sheriff’s office that he brought up his own estimates for implementing body cameras: an initial $150,000 and $65,000 for each year following.
But body cameras aren’t the only measure that Johnson believes will create more transparency; making the county sheriff’s budget more accessible and easy-to-read for citizens also plays a big part in it.
“They already post our budget on the county website. But if you’re the layman person, if you’re the common man, then you don’t understand these codes,” Johnson said. “You don’t know how to read [the budget] because you have the codes to be able to decipher it.”
He referenced that over $3 million worth of assets were found missing after an audit of the sheriff’s department was conducted in 2017, and he believes situations like that can be potentially prevented in the future if there is a more accessible budget.
School Resource Officers, abbreviated to SRO, are part of Johnson’s plan to improve community relations. He explained that he would like SROs to teach classes in schools throughout the county and hold assemblies to help clarify any uncertainties that students might have about law enforcement.
Some Oklahoma County deputies currently serve and have served for years in SRO roles in Oklahoma City Public Schools and other districts in the county.
He also wants to set up “Ask a Cop” sessions in municipalities throughout Oklahoma County to help address safety concerns between the community and the sheriff’s office.
“People who live in an area are able to tell you where the areas of concern are better than a police officer can tell you because [the police officers] don’t live there,” he said.
Johnson also wants to start a type of citizens sheriff academy—the name is still to be determined—that would act as a 12-week training session to help citizens understand law enforcement from the inside.
“Defunding the Police”
In the wake of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests, police-community relations can be a thin line to walk, especially when discussing the idea of defunding the police.
“I would shut down any conversation that talks about defunding the police. I do not approve of it. I do not agree with it,” he said.
The Norman Police Department – where Johnson serves – had over $800,000 cut from its proposed budget increase during a city council vote in June. The cut funds are intended to be reallocated for other community outreach initiatives and hire an auditor.
Currently the Norman City Council is debating how these funds should be spent, but most of the conversation is revolving around police and mental health professional collaboration.
He expressed his critical opinion of that measure as he claims the intended outcomes of it were not reached. He alleges that mental health professionals do not want to go into situations in which police would usually be called in to de-escalate as they could be physically threatened or hurt.
The Norman Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police – the union that represents Johnson and the other Norman police officers – has sued the Norman City Council and the backlash from the council’s vote has created much division within that city.
Johnson and his opponent, Wayland Cubit, will face off in a debate hosted by NonDoc on Thursday, October 22. The election will be historic as either Johnson or Cubit will become Oklahoma County’s first Black sheriff.