Johnson, who has worked in every division of the Department of Public Safety, will now head one of the largest law enforcement agencies in New Mexico – with 650 officers stationed throughout the state.
His immediate priorities include filling vacancies in the department and recruiting more women into the profession.
Women make up just 7 percent of the State Police force, far below the national average, Lujan Grisham said.
Johnson said he expects to change the tone of the agency’s employment advertising to showcase a broader spectrum of police work – not focus just on the special operations equipment and tactical units. He said he also wants to give applicants a better idea early in the hiring process where they might be stationed in the state.
In a news conference at the Capitol, Lujan Grisham also introduced three deputy chiefs – Nic Aragon, Carolyn Huynh and Robert Thornton, all of whom have worked in the department for at least 15 years.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has been filling out her executive team since taking office Jan. 1. At least one key appointment remains – a new corrections secretary – after an earlier nominee pulled out.
The appointment of new police leadership comes after a lawsuit filed last year made a number of allegations against then-Chief Pete Kassetas, who retired at the end of December as the gubernatorial administration changed.
The lawsuit accused him of “blatant, ongoing and systematic discrimination” against officers based on gender and sexual orientation during his tenure. One allegation in the suit accused him of “mooning” employees.
The case was later settled, and the terms are not yet public.
In June, a spokesman for then-Gov. Susana Martinez said the lawsuit contained “many ridiculous allegations that are completely removed from the truth.”
Lujan Grisham, in any case, said she expects Johnson to address any deficiencies in the department’s policies, training and accountability measures.
“We want a standard of professionalism,” she said, “and you will be held accountable to that standard.”
Johnson graduated from Roswell High School, received an associate degree from the New Mexico Military Institute and has a bachelor’s from Huron University in South Dakota.
He will make $125,000 a year as the new chief.
His appointment is subject to state Senate confirmation, though he can begin work right away.