In December of 2015 N.C. Central University made history by enlisting its first-ever female Chief of Police, Odetta Johnson. She is preceded by two interim women police chiefs, Renee Lynch in the early 1990s and Glenda Beard in the early 2000s.
Johnson said she was overjoyed to land the position at her alma mater, where she graduated in 1990.
“As a young girl, my father always told me not to be a pigeon, but to be and eagle and soar,” she said, explaining that even though her father died when she was 14 years old she kept those words close to her heart.
“Upon arriving at N.C. Central University, when I saw that the motto of the school was ‘Where Eagles Soar,’ I knew I was home,” she said.
Johnson said she was unsure of what to major in at NCCU, but with the help of her teachers and her Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters, she decided to study public administration and purse a career in law enforcement, like her mother, a corrections officer.
Johnson brings over two decades of law enforcement experience to her position at NCCU.
From 1990-2015 she served as a commander and chief of staff with the Richmond, Va., police department.
In 2010, the Richmond police department selected her to serve as the interim chief of police at Virginia Union University, giving her valuable university police experience.
On top of that she spent 24 years in the U.S. Army, where she served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and received a Bronze Star Medal.
At the beginning of her career Johnson said she struggled with finding the right balance in her life as she juggled combine her career, her faith, and her family.
“I’ve learned that everything had its time and place,” she said, explaining that she is determined to set a good example for her department.
She said one way of doing that is by making time for herself.
“In order for a person to do their best, they must have a level head and a clear focus. You can’t do that if you’re always stressed out by work.”
Johnson explained that she wants to build on what already exists, by working together to enhance existing systems instead of trying to change things to fit a mold of what she thinks the department should look like.
Her son Kenneth, a structural engineering junior at Old Dominion University, said his mother is the most determined, self-disciplined, and hardest working person he has known. “Sometimes,” he said, “I wish she would slow down.”
“She taught me that even though the world might be working against you, with faith, hard work and God, all things are possible.”
NCCU Police Sergeant Wayne Waddington describes Chief Johnson as “enjoyable” and as a “different breed.”
He said she works closely with officers to identify their strengths to help them develop and grow professionally, adding that she is respected and trusted and that the entire team feels that they are “headed in the right new direction.”
Given her experience at NCCU as a student, Johnson says she understands students’ point of view and she wants students to know that they will be heard.
“I want students to be changed when they leave this campus,” she said.