Candidates for Jacksonville sheriff field questions from public during forum

Forum was hosted by Jacksonville Young Democrats

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The election isn’t until 2023 — but Tuesday night, members of the Jacksonville community got a chance to get to know some of the candidates for sheriff and where they stand on the issues that matter most to them.

Four of the candidates — JSO Assistant Chief Lakesha Burton, former Duval County School Police Asst. Chief Wayne Clark, Tony Cummings and former officer Ken Jefferson, all Democrats, attended the forum, which was hosted by the Jacksonville Young Democrats.

JSO Chief of Investigations T.K. Waters and Mathew Nemeth, JSO’s chief of special events, were not in attendance. Both are Republicans.

Notably, all members were invited to attend the forum.

Community members decided which questions would be asked to the candidates.

The first question: What plans the candidates have to address civilian/police relations.

“JSO has historically continued on with community policing efforts. The problem is that it has been sporadic,” Burton said.

The four candidates agreed that officers need to be more involved in the communities they serve.

“We must put serve back in front of protect. And then we must be transparent,” Clark said.

“I’m going to extend them two-and-a-half to three hours of time to do nothing but meet the community, meet the people that they serve, meet the businesses,” Jefferson said.

Also asked: How do the candidates plan to address youth crime diversion?

“The plans for me to address youth crime is just the same as the plan to address any crime. We have to look at it from a holistic approach,” Burton said. “It’s going to take all of us working together.”

“What we need to do is expand the size of our Explorer Program,” Cummings suggested.

The Police Explorers Program is designed to help educate and involve young people in police operations to develop their interest in one day joining law enforcement.

Gun safety was also a topic of discussion at the forum.

“Crime is so rampant in parts of the city, that people don’t feel safe at home and they keep their gun on the ready,” Cummings said. “We have to make sure that you are not put in a constant state of fear that it paralyzes the city to a point where you have to put a bullet in that chamber and a 1-year-old gets ahold of that gun and takes his or her life.”

“As your sheriff, I would advocate to the legislature to stiffen penalties of persons who are irresponsible with handling their guns,” Jefferson said.

Katie Hathaway, with Moms Demand Action, said she got some of her questions answered.

“They did address my question on the secure storage education campaign to keep kids from accessing guns,” Hathaway said.

Richard Shieldhouse also attended the forum and said the candidates talked about important issues.

“The issue of civil citations is a very important issue. The issue of taking responsibility for mental health away from the criminal justice system in the jail -- that’s also important,” Shieldhouse said.

“You’re being pulled over for a minor offense, that officer says you have a warrant for your arrest. Where’s the compassion in that?” Cummings said during the forum.

Also addressed: Responding to mental health calls.

“If that person who’s having the crisis is not posing a threat to themselves or anyone else, officers do not need to be aggressive with that individual,” Jefferson said.

Clark said additional training is needed in that area for officers. “It’s not just one and done,” he said.