Like many other graduates of Lovington High School, Ola Mae Jackson went to New Mexico Junior College to “get the basics.” From there, she went to Austin Community College deep in the heart of Texas and then to Dallas.
“I modeled (in Dallas) for a while and then I went to Cockrell Hill, Texas, and was the police dispatcher,” Jackson said. “The chief of police asked me if I wanted to be a police officer and being 20 or 21, I said, ‘Sure.”
Her long-traveled road through law enforcement and business leadership led her back to law enforcement when she was named Tatum’s Police Chief in March 2017.
Jackson’s journey into law enforcement started at the Dallas County Sheriff’s Academy, where she met some resistance from the men who were attending the academy with her.
“There weren’t very many women in law enforcement then,” she said. “And there sure weren’t any women of color. Mostly they wouldn’t talk to me and so there wasn’t much camaraderie. But I graduated and went to work in the Dallas County justice system.”
After serving a stint as a detention officer, Jackson went to the bailiff section where she spent time in courtrooms seeing a different side of law enforcement.
“When you serve in the courts, you get to see another side of the judicial system,” she said. “I learned a lot.”
While she was serving as bailiff, the district attorney’s office recruited her to work undercover.
“Most of my work there was in obscenity enforcement. They needed someone who could get into the black community and try to get rid of child pornography and other pornography,” Jackson said.
From there she was assigned to the major investigations division, where she worked big crimes for two decades.
“There are several sections of that division,” she said. “And I served as chief, supervising investigations over a whole lot of them. We investigated rapes, murders, arsons. I served 26 years in that division, including eight as a chief and on five different task forces. And after that, I decided I needed to come home.”
When Jackson got home, she opened two businesses in Lovington, a laundromat and a dry cleaners.
“They were both doing really well and I was enjoying running my own business when the chief of police in Loving-ton told me that Tatum was in desperate need of a chief,” she said. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to get back into law enforcement, but I came over to talk to the mayor and she said, ‘Can you start Monday?”
Jackson said she wasn’t sure she wanted the job and in any case couldn’t start on Monday.
“I’ve got businesses to run,” she told the mayor.
“It took me a month to get things ready with the businesses so I could take the job,” she said. “And when I got here, there was only one other officer. There was no money for uniforms and so it was a one-person show for a while.”
Now, there are two other Lovington police officers and another will be added to the force next week, and there is not only money for uniforms, but also for vests and weapons.
Jackson, whose years as a model as still evident in her perfectly groomed hair, nails and clothing, said she doesn’t often wear the uniform, although she has one she uses for formal law enforcement events.
“I wear jeans and a polo shirt or T-shirt and my sneakers,” she said as she pointed to her black shoes and pink shoelaces. “I put on my gun and my vest when I go out because you never know what might happen. I meet people, go to the schools and talk to the kids. The people in our community are unique. We rarely have anyone in our one jail cell.”
She said for the most part, she has been accepted by the people of Tatum, although there are a few who still won’t talk to her. She’s found the same situation when chiefs of police from all over New Mexico meet.
“I look around and nearly all the chiefs are white,” she said. “Two or three seem to be Hispanic. There are two or three other women, but no other black women. At first they looked at me like ‘What are you doing here?’ but now they’ve decided I belong there and they talk to me.”
Being the first black female chief in New Mexico has put her in the position of being a trailblazer, but she doesn’t feel like a pioneer.
“I was a pioneer in Dallas, but it didn’t seem that way,” she said. “I was just doing a job. And that’s what I’m doing here. Just doing a job that I really like with people I like. I plan to stay until I don’t like it anymore.”
Dorothy N. Fowler can be reached at education@.