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'I don't normally talk a lot about it': Jacksonville sheriff candidate T.K. Waters opens up

T.K. Waters is one of five candidates for sheriff to replace Mike Williams in Jacksonville. He spoke with First Coast News about his past, present and future.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — T.K. Waters, age 51, has 30 years of law enforcement experience. He recently retired from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office as Chief of Investigations, and he is now running for sheriff to replace Mike Williams. 

Williams retired after he admitted he did not live in Duval County, a requirement for sheriff, according to the city charter. 

We asked Waters some key questions which might help you decide your choice for sheriff at the special election on August 23rd. 

First Coast News asked Waters, "Why did you want to be a police officer?"

Waters says he grew up in a military family. His dad served for 32 years.

"I thought I'd join the military. But my first cousin got murdered in 1990," Waters explains. "We were like brothers.  He got murdered for no reason."

His cousin, he says, was robbed and shot at apartments on the Westside of Jacksonville. 

"That's the reason I became a police officer, " Waters says. 

Another personal tragedy still influences his passion for police work, he says.

"I don't normally talk a lot about it, not because I'm ashamed, but I will in this case."

He's talking about his son, Tommy, a basketball players at Providence who, in 2018, took his own life. 

Waters says his son had a relationship with a young lady and "some things happened." 

"He ended up taking his own life," Waters said. "And I found him."

He says there really were no warning flags.  He received some texts and so he rushed home. "And there he was," Waters says. "He was a happy kid. We were buddies."

Credit: TK Waters

Why talk about it during a campaign for sheriff?  Waters says he's sensitive about the subject.  He doesn't want to give the wrong impression, but the tragedy makes him more understanding.

"It doesn't matter what kids are into. Parents don't deserve to deal with the pain associated with that kind of loss. They don't," Waters says, "There's nothing like a parent losing a kid. Nothing."

He says the tragedies are motivation for him to keep peace on the streets.

"I use that as my passion, as part of what drives me every day to save lives...Honestly, that's all I care about," Waters says. 

He says he believes police should continue to work with community partners to tackle mental health and help youth.

FCN also asked Waters what he considered "the worst thing about JSO."

Waters took some time to think about the question, and then he answered, "We've always been playing catch up."  Waters wants to put more police officers on the streets.  He says right now there are just over 1800 officers, and he wants to have 2,000. 

"We need at least 2,000 police officers.  We have 1.98 officers for every 1,000 people in Jacksonville. We need 2,000," he says.  Waters wants to return to a smaller beat system, a smaller area to cover, as was the case when he first started.

It was the days before officers' names were on their patrol cars and people knew police by a number on their vehicles. "We worked in a smaller system," Waters says. Neighbors knew, when 1619 was working, that was Officer Waters.  He wants to get back to neighborhoods feeling closer to their patrol officers.

As for the controversy surrounding the departure of Mike Williams as sheriff because he moved out of Duval, Waters says, "I live here now. I'm building a new residence in the middle of Jacksonville. I'll be here."  

Does he have any criticism for former Sheriff Williams' move out of Duval?

Waters says, "I'm not going to criticize a guy who was a good sheriff."

As for race relations, does he think minorities trust JSO? 

"I think it depends on who you ask," Waters says. "I think they trust JSO, but there's work to be done....I see misunderstandings. I see people that believe the police department doesn't care about how we service that community. It's up to us to fix that." 

First Coast News will sit down one-on-one to talk with all five of the candidates for sheriff.


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