JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Five candidates are vying to be Jacksonville's next sheriff - four Democrats and a Republican. All Duval County voters will be able to select one the candidate of their choice in the Aug. 23 special election.
Unless one candidate gets more than half of the vote in August election, there will be a runoff election between the top two vote-getters on November 8.
On Your Side sat down with each candidate - Lakesha Burton, Wayne Clark, Tony Cummings, Ken Jefferson and T.K. Waters. Get to know them and hear why they believe they should be Jacksonville's next sheriff.
* Candidates are in alphabetical order.
After a career of more than two decades in law enforcement, the former assistant chief with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is running for Sheriff.
Burton says that change needs to start within JSO.
"I can tell you any person that wants to lead this agency and they're not bold enough to speak truth about the change of culture that needs to take place....they don't need to be the sheriff," Lakesha Burton explained.
The Jacksonville native says she wants to be a leader who is involved in the community.
"Your sheriff has to be somebody who is visible, accessible, and accountable and that will be on the forefront answering people's questions and walking people through the why, what, and when things are happening," Burton said.
First Coast News asked Burton about former Sheriff Mike Williams and the controversy surrounding his residency. She was one of his assistant chiefs before he retired.
"I'm not thinking about Mike Williams," Burton responded. "He's gone now. I'm thinking about the next steps. We have people dying in our streets every single day."
Burton's story of how she chose her career is personal.
"At the age of 11 to 14 years old, I was sexually abused, which caused my life to spiral out of control."
It's a story she doesn't mind sharing. The wife, mother, and now grandmother of five believes it shows people anyone can turn their life around.
"I experienced drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, homelessness and hopelessness and I was even arrested before."
She says it was the compassion of a police officer, who helped her during a tough time, that caused her to consider a job in law enforcement.
A career that's lasted for 24 years.
"Eighteen of those 24 years I've been in a supervisory role. I earned every rank available within the agency. I had the honor of being the first female executive director over the Police Athletic League, which is JSO's signature nonprofit."
First Coast News asked Burton about the violence and shootings in the city and her plans for fixing the problem.
"Quite frankly, it's been going on for far too long. Matter of fact, it's worse and it's unacceptable. So what we need to do is look at it from a different lens. We need to look at it from more education, more prevention and intervention and more enforcement."
Burton says she understands the community is concerned about transparency in the sheriff's office.
"I realize that people all over our city are asking for transparency because there is a distrust. I am exploring what can we do to address the transparency issue. We're going to be looking at exploring, perhaps FDLE coming in, and really investigating our officer involved shootings. I think there are several positives to that."
Clark has spent more than 40 years in law enforcement. It’s his experience at different agencies that he says sets him apart from the other candidates vying to become sheriff.
“It is imperative that we choose a sheriff that has the experience and the qualifications to make sure that they're ready to lead on day one,” Clark said. “I want to be that sheriff so that when I leave, we can show that we've had a multi-year reduction in violent crime, that we've been able to build that relationship back in some of those disparate neighborhoods, building trust, being more accountable, being accessible, and being a sheriff out in the community.”
Clark grew up on Jacksonville's Eastside and has lived on the Northside for the past two decades.
“I have lived in Duval County my entire life and I plan on staying in Duval County.
He retired last year as the chief of the Duval County School Police Department. Before that was the police chief at the Jacksonville Aviation Authority and spent 30 years with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
“I was able to reach the rank of division chief. I was over half the city. I was able to lead the sheriff’s office efforts from 2007 to 2010 to reduce murders and violent crime to a 25-year low,” Clark said. "When you look at having out-of-the-box ideas, you got to have been out of the box, those other candidates, all they know is what they know from the sheriff’s office. And we know from the last four or five years, that's not been working. I think I bring in a breath of fresh air, a wider lens.”
To address the spike in crime he wants to bring back programs that JSO had when he was on the force like intelligence-led policing.
“We used data and real-time street intelligence to tell us when to deploy our officers, where to deploy our officers, and who were the targets we needed to remove from the streets to bring down crime.”
And he would make patrol units more visible, having cruisers turn on one red and one blue light while patrolling.
“Because when we see the police, good people check themselves, bad people tend to go someplace else.”
Building a better relationship between the sheriff's office and the community is another one of his top priorities. He says he would be an engaged sheriff.
“People want to see their leader, people want to hear from that leader,” Clark said.
As for his thoughts on whether he thinks the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office should continue to investigate its own officer-involved shootings, he said, “I have no doubt that the officers at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office have the integrity and the ability to thoroughly investigate themselves and officer-involved shootings. But people are demanding transparency. And there's no harm in allowing another agency i.e. the Florida Department of law enforcement to come in and take on that responsibility.”
He does not think officer-involved shootings on a regular basis should go before a grand jury. He proposes creating a Sheriff’s Internal Oversight Committee comprised of citizens who would be vetted and trained.
“It'd be like a quasi-judicial process that when a situation is over, they are given free rein to take a deep dive to look into this to make a determination. Did the officers follow policy? Did they follow the law? Did they follow national best practices and make a written recommendation to the sheriff?” Clark said. “And if those things make sense, we will change our policy and put those things into place.”
Cummings spent 28 years in law enforcement. He is also a military veteran and holds a doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership. This will be his third run for the sheriff’s seat.
“On your website, the slogan is ‘It is time for a change’. If you are elected sheriff, what is the first thing you change on day 1?” asked First Coast News Katie Jeffries.
“Well, on day 1, I plan to get the public involved in the fight against crime in Jacksonville,” Cummings replied.
Cummings says he believes solving Jacksonville’s violent crime problem depends on building the public’s trust in the sheriff’s Office.
“Because that would allow the public a seat at the table when we are making decisions about how to use that $500 million in taxes that they pay to secure their neighborhood and protect their children and loved ones,” he says. "I want them there to have accountability and oversight over our operations."
He also believes there needs to be more transparency from JSO.
“If you had to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10, one being terrible and 10 being perfect, where would you put JSO relationship with the community?,” asked Jeffries.
“I would put it at a two. It is very low and this is just being honest,” he replied.
To boost that trust he says he is also in favor of a Civilian Review Board and supports community policing, by investing in nonprofits, and he says keeping officers community focused.
“As your sheriff, I will from day one make my officers understand that the community is counting on you,” tells Cummings.
"Counting on you in such a way that they are going to make sure they help steer them in the right direction. Because you are from them, you are a part of them and we are all in this together and we don’t want to lose sight of that as an organization."
He says a love of community has been instilled in him since he was young, raised by his mother with three siblings in the Northwest side of Jacksonville. Now a husband and father to two young women, he says violent crime is fracturing our community and tarnishing the image of Jacksonville, but worst of all, each murder brings pain to families.
“I never lose track that those numbers are human beings, that’s someone’s loved one over there on Jefferson street at the medical examiners’ office.
I want those numbers down,” he says.
Which is why he says he is running to be Jacksonville’s top cop.
“None of this will take place unless you have a sheriff that opens the door for these reforms to take place,” says Cummings. "Reforming the sheriff’s office is not defunding the sheriff’s office, I am not for defunding the sheriff’s office. I am for the people having a say in the resources that they pay for to drive the violent crime element out of our city, and we are going to do just that."
A retired officer, Jefferson is no rookie when it comes to going after the office. This is his third time running.
He's a Jacksonville native who has served in various roles within the department, including as Public Information Officer.
One of his main priorities as he aims to become the city's top cop is addressing homelessness. Once homeless himself as a child, he says stable housing contributes to a reduction in crime.
"I made it out, I was fortunate," Jefferson said. "I made it out. I didn't graduate in that regard because I knew deep down what I wanted to be in life."
Jefferson says his aspirations to become a police officer kept him from graduating into a life of crime. He knew he wanted better for himself, recalling a challenging time during his childhood when he and his six siblings, mother and father were evicted from their home.
"We found ourselves on the streets," Jefferson said. "Living in a station wagon. We had to eat bologna sandwiches for dinner. We had to get up early enough to wash our face and brush our teeth in the school’s bathroom. The only meal we had during the day was what was served for lunch."
The family would eventually find a home in what was once known as Washington Heights along Moncrief Road.
"Coming up through the rough has given me a resolve as well as a resilience to never give up," Jefferson said.
He hasn't given up on his bid to become Sheriff. Jefferson ran for the office against John Rutherford in 2011 and Mike Williams in 2015.
"In 2015 It was hurtful as you could imagine when you put your time your efforts, your resources, and you come so close," Jefferson said. "Close enough that you can taste victory, and it doesn't work out for you, it's a hurting thing."
Jefferson says his city is now hurting.
"The people of Jacksonville who stop me everywhere I go- grocery stores, restaurants, churches out in public at the gas pumps asking me to run again," Jefferson said.
"Telling me that we need change in Jacksonville and we believe that you are the change maker, we believe that you can bring the city together, we believe you can bring peace to our neighborhoods."
The father of five and East Arlington resident says he doesn't have plans to move anywhere out of the county. Instead, he aims to change the department charged with keeping the city safe.
"The city is divided into six zones," Jefferson said. "Some zones are busier than others. I can borrow from the less busy zones for two hours, knocking on doors, meeting the people, getting information from them as is needed to help us fight crime."
Jefferson also plans to encourage mentorship among his senior staff if he wins the Sheriff's seat this time around.
He says on his first day in office, he would empower state investigators to investigate police involved shootings and in-custody deaths.
Waters, 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."
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."