Longtime law enforcement officer CJ Johnson announced his candidacy for sheriff of Culpeper County Wednesday evening at Raven’s Nest Coffee Shop.
Johnson, who ran against current Sheriff Scott Jenkins in 2015, was supported by an eclectic group - Republicans, Democrats and Independents all turned out for his announcement.
After losing in a four-person race in 2015 - along with candidates Mike Grant and Pat Coffey - why run again?
“I still think there’s a lot of change that needs to happen in Culpeper,” Johnson said. “My overall consensus from citizens is that they aren’t happy with the current administration. I feel like I have a lot to offer.”
One of the lessons learned from his last foray into politics - don’t run in a multi-person race.
“Honestly, don’t get involved in a race with too many people,” Johnson said with a laugh. “I did learn a lot through the process about campaigning. Campaigning is like a business, you need help. Last time I tried to do too much myself, this time I have a great team supporting me.”
Johnson said that community issues such as the opioid crisis, transparency within the sheriff’s department, jail overcrowding and public perception of the organization are some of his key reasons for running.
Johnson, currently employed by the Orange Police Department, pointed to community policing in North Carolina that has been a success as far as the opioid epidemic is concerned.
“We need to try different things as far as the opioid crisis is concerned,” Johnson said. “There’s been some success in other communities that the community policing approach has been very successful for them. The county recently had a big drug bust that was initiated through a patrol officer. When you get to know the community and interacting with them things like that happen.”
He also said that if elected, he would push for body worn cameras for the deputies.
“We need transparency within the office,” Johnson said. “Part of that is getting body worn cameras for the officers, earning the trust and respect of this community.”
One of the biggest controversies that has faced the sheriff’s office in recent years is the signing of the 287(g) policy with ICE. The program has led to lawsuits by the ACLU and the Legal Aid Justice Center.
“I’m against illegal immigration but I’m also against this 287(g) program,” Johnson said. “In my opinion, it leads to, at some point, discrimination against people. The sheriff’s office had effectively done it’s job prior to the program, I don’t really see how it’s helped anything. Obviously there’s a reason only a few agencies in the state involved with it.”
Johnson also said the sheriff’s department needs to look at either building a new jail to house more prisoners or enter a contract with a regional facility to house overflow.
Johnson campaigned in 2015 about increasing security in schools, and said that the current administration has done a good job of putting resource officers in each school. He still cautions that more work needs to be done to keep up with the ever changing active shooter program.
He said that in speaking with residents, many have expressed concern with the current administration.
“A lot of them have lost faith or trust in the current administration,” Johnson said. “I feel like we need to gain that trust back, that comes from doing our jobs the right way and treating people fairly across the board.”
Troy Frazier, a longtime friend of Johnson’s, said his character is what sets him apart.
“Our friendship spans almost 30 years, we spent time volunteering with the Culpeper County Volunteer Rescue Squad for almost 10 years,” Frazier said. “We found ourselves coming to the aid of our community when people are having the worst possible moments of their life, you really get to see a person in that timeframe - what they’re made of. He was always a man of character and integrity. No matter what it was, he stood up and did the right thing.”