, Muskogee, OK

August 22, 2012

Chief: Community matters most

— By Travis Sloat

Times Correspondent

Jim Huggins made the motion, Myra Cookson seconded, the board voted unanimously, and Fort Gibson hired a new chief of police on July 23.

James Vernon, who goes by “Clint,” was previously the chief security officer for the Creek Nation Casino, where he managed 11 properties and carried a Cherokee Nation Lighthorse commission.

Before that, he was chief of police at Northeastern State University, which was a state commission.

Vernon said his first order of business in Fort Gibson is to observe, and establish a presence in the community.

“I’m a manager,” he said. “In community policing, it’s very important for officers to be involved. I learned that at a very early stage in my career. It’s extremely important to get that respect from the community.”

Vernon brings 23 years of law enforcement experience to the community and has lived in Broken Arrow for 47 years.

“I’m all about budgets, and I’m all about control… proper management,” he said. “I want to get involved and lead by example.”  

He is married to Connie Vernon, who owns a daycare, and they have three children — Christine, 19, Andrew, 18, and Jaycee, 5.

He replaces former chief Terry Johnston, who started on June 6, 2011, and resigned on July 6.

Gene Wallis, who has lived in Fort Gibson for 18 years, said he’s worked with the Vernon in the past, and he’s already discussed some changes with him.

“I’m disappointed in the decision by the board to hire him, because it means I’ve lost a great supervisor,” Wallis said. “But Fort Gibson has gotten a great police chief.”

Sgt. Brandon Combs, an officer for the Fort Gibson police department, said he’s had the opportunity to talk to Vernon several times at great length.

“He has a lot of good ideas,” Combs said. “A lot of ideas that will benefit the department, and the way that we’ll be able to serve the community.”

During the board meeting, the curfew at the new skate park was brought up, which has been a hotly debated topic around town. After the meeting, Vernon weighed in with his opinion by saying that the park needed “presence.”

“I’m not saying just stand out there,” he said. “I’m saying grab a skateboard, if that’s the case, put on a pair of skates, and get to know these people. Let them know I’m not a badge, I’m a person, and I care about those kids and that park.”

In fact, Vernon “closed” the skate park temporarily late last week after discovering trash cans were not being used, people had been smoking in the park and pets were being brought in against park rules.

“Hopefully, we won’t have to do this again after we reopen it,” he said. “But we’ll continue to monitor it.”

Additionally, Vernon and Officer Brent Maddocks took a few minutes to stop by the park last week and introduce themselves to many families and children.

A few children even got to turn on Maddocks’ police unit sire and all were given lollipops, as part of Vernon’s efforts to become a community presence.

Editor Wendy Burton contributed to this story.