Western Carolina University campus welcomes new top cop Johnson

CULLOWHEE – Tom Johnson, chief of police at Mississippi State University, has been selected as Western’s new director of police, effective July 1. He is filling a vacancy left by the retirement of Gene McAbee, who has led Western’s police force for 18 years.

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Johnson, who visited the Cullowhee campus in mid-May with his wife, Melissa, says he is impressed with the growth he sees at Western and is excited about becoming a part of that.

He has no sweeping changes in mind for Western’s police department right away; instead, he intends to assess the department’s needs and capabilities by talking with officers and staff and listening to members of the university community.

“I have a vision for where I think the department should be in a few years, and that requires a deliberate assessment of what needs to be done and a strategic plan with goals and objectives in order to move forward,” he said.

Even before there’s a strategic plan in place, Johnson knows that he will work toward accreditation of Western’s police department by the Commission on the Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies. “To earn accreditation is a mark of professionalism. It’s all about ‘best practices’ in law enforcement,” he said. His team at Mississippi State earned CALEA accreditation, making it the only accredited university police department in the state. Johnson says that in North Carolina the police departments at NC State University and UNC-Chapel Hill also are accredited.

Johnson served as chief of police for nearly eight years at Mississippi State, a leading research university where he has completed all but his dissertation for a doctorate in technology with a concentration in instructional systems and student development. He holds a master’s degree in psychology from the University of West Florida and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Troy State University . Before taking his post in Mississippi, he worked as chief of police at Marshall University and police lieutenant at the University of West Florida. He has a total of 30 years of experience in law enforcement, and extensive experience teaching criminal justice and psychology classes at the junior college, police academy and university level.

A motorcycle enthusiast, Johnson says he and his wife are familiar with the mountains of Western North Carolina because his brother owns property in nearby Haywood County, and they have visited there.