JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Early voting begins Monday for the November midterm elections and the two remaining candidates vying to be the next Jacksonville sheriff are making their last efforts to try to sway voters their way.
Democrat Lakesha Burton and Republican T.K. Waters debated at a forum Friday afternoon at the First Coast Tiger Bay Club luncheon.
For some — this was a decision-making debate for voters. Some voters told News4JAX they went into the debate undecided, and some knew for sure who they wanted to be the next leader here at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office — but today’s debate definitely sealed the deal for some.
“Does this help you make an educated decision on who you would want to vote for?” News4JAX asked.
“Oh, yes — I’ve made a decision as a result of this debate,” Tom Hermann, a Duval County voter, said.
The two got a chance to make their case in front of the tiger bay club members, taking audience-prepared questions on community policing, the city’s murder rate, and school safety.
The first question:
“How do you plan to energize the community so that it will become more cooperative and more proactive in helping your department lower the crime rate?”
T.K. Waters: “There’s a couple of things that can happen when you engage and get closer to our community, one, you can decrease response times and you can also be close to our community work together. There was a time in this agency when I’d hit the streets and people knew your car number, knew your name, and knew when you worked we have to get back to that and I have a plan to do that.”
Lakesha Burton: “Going back to how we’re going to do it we have to show up to areas and places where a lot of times people don’t like the police or trust us — we need to talk to the media — we need to show up. In one way, we build trust its not by the way we’ve been running our campaigns.”
Another issue at the top of voters’ minds for these candidates focused on school safety after a number of school tragedies have occurred across the country.
The second question:
“With the concern for school safety do you see value in the interface by JSO and if so what approach would you use?”
Lakesha Burton: “We have to continue to keep that open communication and work together on training and doing proactive stuff, listen the same kids that are in the schools are the same kids that we serve in the community so it behooves us to have strong collaborations with our school police department.”
T.K. Waters: “The partnership is there that will remain there stay strong, we’re going to look at way that we can make our schools better on the city standpoint to make them safer and focus heavily on making sure our kids stay safe.”
They also addressed violent crime in Jacksonville.
The third question: “How do you plan to reduce murders in Jacksonville starting day one of your administration?
Lakesha Burton: “I share my integrated public safety plan, but day one, I’m going to rally this community the violent crime in this city is louder than we are it’s louder than that agency over there. It’s almost as if we’ve become numb and it’s abnormal to have this type of violence that we see in this city every single day. Roughly about 15 teenagers have been murdered in this city and as a mother, I’m outraged.”
T.K. Waters: “It’s very important that we strategically place our manpower in places where it needs to be we have to look at the way in which we patrol in our city we have to look at the manpower and where we put it day 1 we’ll start looking at our zone alignment get our populations equaled out and we’ll base it on that — and then we’ll put our officers in places to help us be more successful — in being proactive in dealing with violent crime.”
Voters say they’re both very strong candidates that they know will help shape the City of Jacksonville.
The candidates told News4JAX they know they’ve got their work cut out for them over the next couple of weeks.
“I think it’s very important for us to go out in the streets knocking on doors talk to people and let them know who I am and meet people and help them understand that I’m more than just a two-minute answer and questions full of platitudes it’s not me,” T.K. Waters said.
“Boots on the ground,” Lakesha Burton said. “I’ve been working really hard. I’m somebody who nobody gives me anything. I earn it and from day one I said that I would earn the respect in the vote of the people and I’m going to work all the way up to election night at 7 p.m. when the polls close.”
During the debate, Burton challenged Waters to more debates, and whenNews4JAX asked about it, he said his campaign would be open to it.