He stood in front of family, friends and fellow officers at a welcoming ceremony in his black uniform with four yellow stripes on the ends of each sleeve, representing the number of years he has been in law enforcement.
His mother and father held back their tears as they watched their son’s hard work during the past 24 years finally pay off.
The Oklahoma State University Police Department had just made history.
Leon Jones, OSU Chief of Police, is the first African-American to hold this position at the university. He received the position in August and replaced David Altman.
Jones said the path to get there wasn’t easy.
He grew up in an era when police relations with African-Americans were poor, and said he distinctly remembers watching the cases of Rodney King and O.J. Simpson.
Even in his hometown of New Boston, Texas, Jones said he recalls moments of avoiding law enforcement.
“When I was growing up, law enforcement was different back home,” Jones said. "We never really talked to officers.”
In New Boston, which has a population of 4,550 people, according to the 2017 census, none of the officers when Jones was growing up were of color.
Although he never communicated with officers, Jones said he always saw the occupation as something he could do.
“I never let the excuse of being black stop me from getting something,” Jones said.
If he didn’t get something, he said it just meant he needed to work harder.
Jones started his career path as a loss prevention specialist in 1985 at a Wal-Mart in New Boston. The job focused on minimizing theft at local retail stores, such as Wal-Mart or shops in the mall.
Jones worked in New Boston for nine years before transferring to a Wal-Mart in Stillwater to work the same position.
While working as a prevention specialist, he was also able to work with police departments Stillwater. Coworkers suggested Jones should apply at the OSU and Stillwater Police Departments.
Jones said he took their advice and applied for both departments and was eventually hired at OSUPD in 1994.
He began as a patrol officer, monitoring the OSU campus. In only five years, Jones moved up in rank and was promoted to sergeant.
In 1999, the sergeant’s promotion process came up at the OSU Police Department. The qualifications for each department vary. For most, there has to be a certain number of years as an officer, and some require a certain level of schooling.
During the promotion process, Jones took classes at OSU, and after getting promoted to sergeant, he switched to online classes at Kaplan University, a distance-learning institution.
Jones earned his master’s degree in criminal justice in 2008.
During his time taking classes, Jones was promoted to captain.
After serving as a captain for several years, Jones was promoted to chief of police.
Dustin Orrell, who served with Jones from 1996 to 2005, said he never thought he would see an African-American be the chief at OSU’s police department, let alone his best friend.
Orell said Jones’ outgoing personality changed his entire perception of police.
Jones was patrolling in a police unit while Orrell was a student at OSU. He stopped him in the middle of a parking lot to greet him while he was walking back to Willham South, a former residence hall that was demolished in 2005.
For Orrell, this was the first time a police officer had taken the time to show interest in getting to know him.
That moment marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
Orrell ended up working at OSUPD for nine years with Jones.
Since Jones started, the OSU community has noticed an impact on relations between officers and the people of OSU.
Jason Kirksey, vice president for institutional diversity and chief diversity officer at OSU, said communication between officers and the public at OSU has increased since Jones took the position.
“There is a vibrancy among the officers,” Kirksey said. “I interacted with them before, but now I am consistently interacting with them.”
Kirksey said the consistent presence of officers in the Student Union is the epitome of community policing, an idea that Jones implemented when he took the position.
Jones said his reason for consistently having officers in the public is because it’s what they’re supposed to do and what they need to do.
“I hope being in this position creates and sheds light on opportunities for more African-Americans to take positions similar to my own,” Jones said.