JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In two weeks, voters will pick a new Jacksonville sheriff during a special election on August 23. Tuesday, the candidates talked to potential voters at a forum with the Northside Business Leaders group at the Jacksonville Zoo.
The candidates spoke directly to influential business owners. They were asked about gangs, crime and transparency.
Four of five candidates handled some direct and critical questions during a forum on the Northside, moderated by Duval County Property Assessor Jerry Holland.
LaKesha Burton had COVID two weeks ago. She no longer has it, however, she was not able to attend because she is recovering from side effects of the virus.
The candidates all have law enforcement experience, but they tried to separate themselves with their answers. Each candidate had a different view on police transparency to the public and civilian review board.
“My first day in office, I am going to sign an agreement with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to have them investigate all police involved shootings as well as all in custody deaths,” Ken Jefferson said.
Jefferson, a Democrat, said there would also be a concurrent internal investigation and a commission of civilians to hear from the public.
T.K. Waters, a Republican, says JSO is already transparent, but more can be done.
“We have to do better and we will do better but I have some plans in place to be able to direct message individuals in our community so they will understand what’s going on in our neighborhoods,” Waters said. “Civilian review boards, I am not in agreement with a review board.”
Wayne Clark, a Democrat, also responded. “What I am proposing to do is to have an internal dashboard, that when we get a complaint, you will know we got a complaint,” Clark said. “I can’t list the officer, I can’t list the specifics because of confidentiality until we decide what we are going to do with the officer.”
Clark also wants officer involved shooting and in custody deaths investigated by FDLE and a trained civilian oversight committee.
Tony Cummings, a Democrat, says money is being wasted with officers living in other counties and JSO needs to be more open.
“Folks, we need transparency and trust from the community and the only way we are going to get that is if we invite them inside the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office with a body of their own peers to make sure we are doing right by your tax dollars,” Cummings said.
Jacksonville has had its share of violence. The candidates had different definitions of gangs and how to counter them effectively.
“We need to know who those people are and we need to give them a space to change and we need to come down with the full weight of law enforcement,” Clark said.
Cummings responded, “We don’t have a gang problem in Jacksonville.”
Jefferson said, “As the sheriff what I would do is infiltrate those areas by building a relationship with the community that surrounds the gangs.”
“I built a program in the sheriff’s office where we go face up with these young men all over our community,” Waters said. “We will continue to work and get better and continue to push. I am so done with seeing young men killed all over these streets.”
In addition, each candidate felt disappointed about the delay in action during the Uvalde mass shooting in Texas, that left children and teachers dead and said that they and their leadership would have immediately went inside the school.
All of the men say they are Christian and pro-life but Cummings believes a woman should decide what happens to her body.
The candidates were also asked, “What’s JSO greatest challenge?”
Cummings said the agency is wasting money and does not need more officers.
Jefferson said there needs to be better proactive police community relations.
Waters said officers need the proper resources.
Clark also called for better police community relations and better money management.
Although Burton could not attend the forum Tuesday, she said she will be attending the News4JAX debate Wednesday evening at Jacksonville University. The debate starts at 8 p.m. and you can watch it on Channel 4, The Local Station, News4JAX.com or on the News4JAX+ smart tv app.