Tommie Johnson III
Tommie Johnson III is sworn in as Oklahoma County Sheriff during a ceremony Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, at U.S. Grant High School. (Archiebald Browne)

There is officially a new sheriff in town.

Tommie Johnson III officially became Oklahoma County’s first Black sheriff with his inauguration today. Johnson, who dethroned incumbent and former Oklahoma County Sheriff P.D. Taylor in June’s Republican primary, defeated Oklahoma City Police Lt. Wayland Cubit — another Black man — in the Nov. 3 election.

Monday’s socially distanced ceremony took place in the auditorium of U.S. Grant High School, Johnson’s alma mater, and was filled mainly with law enforcement, a few elected officials and some of Johnson’s family.

“I will do the best job I can do to represent this agency to build a relationship — a better relationship — with the public that we serve and to lead this office to heights it’s never seen,” Johnson said to the audience after being sworn in.

Johnson was introduced by Greg Frederick, the school’s principal.

“Mr. Johnson is a product of our state, our county, our city and Oklahoma City Public Schools,” Frederick said.

Before being elected, Johnson served in the Norman Police Department for seven years. As a political newcomer, he ran his campaign with the goal of building trust in law enforcement from the communities they are supposed to protect and serve.

Oklahoma County Assessor Larry Stein attended the event and said he has supported Johnson since the day he filed for office.

Stein said that having the Oklahoma County Jail be the responsibility of the jail trust will give Johnson an easier time with managing patrols in unincorporated areas and providing security to the County Courthouse.

“I think (Johnson) is in a position where he’s going to be transformative, and that’s what’s so wonderful about him,” Stein said. 

Tommie Johnson focused on campaign goals

Tommie Johnson III
Oklahoma County Sheriff Tommie Johnson III answers questions from media after his swearing-in ceremony Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, at U.S. Grant High School. (Archiebald Browne)

Johnson re-emphasized his campaign goals for the county, such as ensuring safer communities.

“We have to bolster our patrols, bolster our response, bolster the presence in the communities that we serve and the unincorporated areas that we’re solely responsible for taking care of,” Johnson told media after the ceremony. “We have to make this work. We will make this work.”

At an October debate hosted by NonDoc, Johnson said “the top priority for the Oklahoma County sheriff is to get body cams.” Asked about body cameras for deputies Monday, Johnson discussed his department’s budget.

“We have to get in, look at the budget, look at the finances and see where we’re at currently,” he said. “Get vendors coming in and see how much they’re going to charge us. I know I had (estimated) approximately $150,000 (to) $165,000 to start it off. I want to make sure that that is correct, and what we’re going to do is see where we can trim the fat at and get that accomplished because that is our first mission, and we will do everything we can to get there”

Johnson said the biggest thing from the community he’s seen and heard is that people want to have a better relationship with the sheriff.

“Everything that I can be a part of, I want to be a part of,” he said.

Johnson said he does not want to make too many personnel changes because he wants to retain institutional knowledge that he has yet to learn. 

“I didn’t come here to chop heads off,” Johnson said. “We are going to go in there and work with people who are already there, and we are going to bring people in as well that I think would further our mission.”

In the first month of his tenure, Johnson said he expects to make progress on his goal of having the office being more involved with the community. He also said that the county will hear more of his thoughts and opinions and will have the office be more visible and transparent.

“We are going to be more visible and just give people more information that they haven’t seen and haven’t been able to get from the sheriff’s office,” Johnson said.