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Key takeaways from the Oklahoma County sheriff debate

Candidates for Oklahoma County sheriff sparred over experience levels and debated ways to build trust in police during a debate Thursday ahead of the Nov. 3 election. 


Democrat Wayland Cubit, 51, is an Oklahoma City police officer who has served as a patrol officer and investigator. He started an officer-led outreach program focused on mentoring at-risk youth to reduce juvenile crimes and incarceration.


Republican Tommie Johnson III, 31, is a patrol officer with the Norman Police Department. Johnson defeated incumbent Sheriff P.D. Taylor during an August runoff election earlier this year.  


The debate, hosted by online news outlet NonDoc and NEWS 9, had moments of tension as the candidates quickly worked their way through several rounds of questions ranging from how they felt about the county jail to changes they’d implement if elected. 


Here are key takeaways: 


Experience 


The candidates clashed again and again on the importance of experience.


Cubit, who has more than two decades of service as an on-the-ground officer and manager, continuously asked the audience to keep in mind his successes, which he said prove what he would be capable of as sheriff. 


“You will hear many ideas and points of views,” Cubit said. “Some of those ideas will be based on a lived experience, knowledge and training. Those ideas will come from me, someone who has formal leadership experience in law enforcement.”


“I respect the fact that (Johnson) has ideas,” Cubit later added. “But we have to understand that he hasn’t done it.”


Johnson, who has been with NPD since 2015, repeatedly pointed to work experiences he says prepared him to be sheriff, as well as mentioning research and planning he has done. 


“I don’t speak in generalities. I don’t come to you with just ideas,” Johnson said. “I have a concrete plan backed by facts and data, things that we can roll out day one to make positive, feasible strides for the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office.”


Racism in law enforcement


Moderators asked the candidates several questions related to racism within policing and how candidates would address calls for defunding or abolishing the police.


While both candidates said they disagreed with defunding the police, they gave separate answers on racism within policing generally. 


“I will not say that we have systemic racism in policing, I’ll say we have systemic racism in America,” Cubit said. “We do an awesome job in Oklahoma City in dealing with systemic racism by enacting policies and procedures and oversight that keeps implicit bias in check.” 


Johnson said he did not believe police departments have systemic racism, though he said departments do need to be more diverse. 


“I understand the past of my profession isn’t very pretty,” Johnson said. “But where we sit today, we are in a far better place.”


Body cameras 


The implementation of a body camera program was mentioned by both candidates several times. 


Johnson introduced the plan early as one of his top priorities for increasing transparency and said he would try to fund the program through donations. Cubit said he believed body cameras were also necessary, but said he would not solicit donations directly from outside groups. 


ICE office space: 


The role played by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency in the county jail has been a hot button issue in recent weeks, and candidates were asked if they believed the jail should continue to offer free office space to ICE agents who work directly inside the jail. 


“I approve of that,” Johnson said, adding that he believed having the officers present made information “readily available.” 


Cubit said he did not believe the agents should be in the jail because their presence causes sectors of the community to fear the police, which leads to a lack of cooperation when law enforcement tries to carry out investigations. 


“We have the technology that allows us to cooperate without them physically being there,” Cubit said. 

Related Photos
Oklahoma County sheriff candidate Wayland Cubit. at a fund raiser at Plenty in downtown Oklahoma City Monday, October 12, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma County sheriff candidate Wayland Cubit. at a fund raiser at Plenty in downtown Oklahoma City Monday, October 12, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-b45315b6ecd2e24783b3b717d160339c.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma County sheriff candidate Wayland Cubit. at a fund raiser at Plenty in downtown Oklahoma City Monday, October 12, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]" title="Oklahoma County sheriff candidate Wayland Cubit. at a fund raiser at Plenty in downtown Oklahoma City Monday, October 12, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Oklahoma County sheriff candidate Wayland Cubit. at a fund raiser at Plenty in downtown Oklahoma City Monday, October 12, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6c2d597bf6fbe0e8b93d37f2cdd91e3f.jpg" alt="Photo - Tommie Johnson, III at Northwest Optimist's Palmer Field where he played lots of baseball games in high school, Thursday, October 8, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]" title="Tommie Johnson, III at Northwest Optimist's Palmer Field where he played lots of baseball games in high school, Thursday, October 8, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Tommie Johnson, III at Northwest Optimist's Palmer Field where he played lots of baseball games in high school, Thursday, October 8, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6c2d597bf6fbe0e8b93d37f2cdd91e3f.jpg" alt="Photo - Tommie Johnson, III at Northwest Optimist's Palmer Field where he played lots of baseball games in high school, Thursday, October 8, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]" title="Tommie Johnson, III at Northwest Optimist's Palmer Field where he played lots of baseball games in high school, Thursday, October 8, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Tommie Johnson, III at Northwest Optimist's Palmer Field where he played lots of baseball games in high school, Thursday, October 8, 2020. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure>
Kayla Branch

Kayla Branch covers county government and poverty for The Oklahoman. Branch is a native Oklahoman and graduate of the University of Oklahoma. She joined The Oklahoman staff in April 2019. Read more ›

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