Five candidates – four Democrats and one Republican – are vying to fill the Jacksonville sheriff’s seat, following Mike Williams’ resignation earlier this summer. All Duval voters can vote in the August sheriff’s race, regardless of party affiliation.
Meet the candidates
Candidates are in alphabetical order; photos and answers are from the first public forum with all five candidates, sponsored by the Istanbul Center and Atlantic Institute on July 20.
Lakesha Burton (D)
Candidate bio: A 24-year Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office veteran, Democrat Lakesha Burton has been a lieutenant, assistant chief, zone commander in the Arlington area and the first woman to be executive director of the Police Athletic League. She’s also the first Black woman to run for Jacksonville sheriff.
On why she’s running: “My reason is very simple: It’s time for change. By all accounts, I shouldn’t be here tonight because the road that I traveled to be here had so many roadblocks. Childhood sex abuse, teen mom at 15 years old, experiencing drugs and alcohol, promiscuity, homelessness and hopelessness, but I’m here. And I share those things because all those things made me stronger, as a woman, as a mother and definitely as a leader. It made me a fighter, and in our next sheriff, we need a sheriff who’s going to be a fighter for all of us, no matter where you live at, no matter what you look like, and no matter where you work at.”
On what JSO is doing right: “I have to tell you, the men and women on this agency, they bust their butts every single day and they do not get the acknowledgement that they totally deserve. So I’ll just say what they’re doing right: They work hard every day to protect this community.”
On what JSO is doing wrong: “We have to look at our crime problem from a more comprehensive approach, so we won’t be so reactive, but we’ll also be proactive. So the way I was able to get that 16% reduction in crime with my police officers, with our investigative units, and with our community: because we looked at it from a holistic approach. … We need more solid partnerships with our faith base, our nonprofits, our business community, our families. That’s what it’s going to take.”
On transparency: “I do think that the first step into building transparency and trust is looking at an outside entity, like Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to come in and look at our officer-involved shootings. So I’m definitely exploring that as well. But I think another important partner is our media partner. Over the years, the relationship has soured, and we have to work closely with our media partners to get that critical information out to our community.”
On gun control: “I support the Second Amendment and I think that we do need some reasonable gun laws. But we have to look at it from an education perspective, prevention, intervention and enforcement. We have to make sure that guns don’t get in the hands of those who are committing the violence in our community.”
On school safety: “I believe that the School Board is properly trained. I think that I want everybody to know that we train together. So the school police department are not isolated by themselves. We work together, we train together.”
On police misconduct: “It’s about leadership, it’s about culture and it’s about accountability. We have to create a culture within this agency where officers feel like they have the right, and they will be protected when they speak up against any type of officer misbehaving. … We have to really make sure that we hold our officers accountable.”
Campaign cash: $1,155,415 (includes $223,165 reported to Duval elections and $932,250 to her PAC, Make Every Voice Count).
Candidate website: Burton for Sheriff.
Wayne Clark (D)
Candidate bio: In his 40-year policing career, Democrat Wayne Clark has been a JSO sergeant, zone commander and division chief. He’s also the former chief of police for the Jacksonville Airport Police and the Duval County School Police.
On why he’s running: “When we look at the serious issues that are going on in our community now, when we look at murder, violent crime, we look at the lack of trust in certain neighborhoods; it is imperative that whoever we choose as leader has the ability to pull the community together and be willing to go everywhere, to serve everyone. … All of these candidates, all they know is the Sheriff’s Office. I’ve been out of the box and I come back down to the Sheriff’s Office with out-of-the-box ideas because we need a comprehensive plan for murder and violent crime.”
On what JSO is doing right: “I see the word ‘we’ and what we are doing right is we’re having forums like this, to talk about and to identify the problem in our community. That’s violent crime and murder. Until I identify a problem, I can’t solve the problem, and we can work to solve that problem together.”
On what JSO is doing wrong: “We can come up with better youth programs, because a lot of these problems are because young people just simply don’t have things to do. … The Sheriff’s Office gets about seven or eight million dollars a year in forfeiture dollars. Statute allows the sheriff to use that for community programs, or buy toys for the officers. I commit that I will use those forfeiture dollars for youth programs and other crime reduction programs in the community. Since the money comes from the street, let’s get back to the neighborhoods.”
On transparency: “Transparency alone doesn’t stand. As I’ve thought about this campaign for sheriff, I’ve come up with five principal pillars that I will use as a guide for everything I do, and they all play on each other. The first thing is, we’ve got to build trust. Trust comes from building a relationship. Until I get to know you, you won’t trust me, you won’t tell me what we need to know. Then I need to be accountable, accountability starts at the top. If I start to trust you and we are accountable to each other, then we make ourselves accessible to each other. And with all those three, now we can be transparent.”
On gun control: “We need to have some reasonable control. I’m against constitutional carry that they’re trying to pass in Florida, that means that if you’re legal to buy a gun you can carry without a permit. Some states have what they call open carry. With open carry, there is some regulation, you have to have a concealed carry permit. But I don’t want either one of those.”
On school safety: “I’m confident that the Duval County School Police Department has the resources and the ability to thwart any attack like Uvalde. Yes, we will call in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and those guys know that we gotta go in, we got to stop the killing and we got to stop dying inside the classrooms. So I’m highly confident in that with the Duval County School Police Department.”
On police misconduct: “When we look at misconduct by an officer, discipline is not only for the person that’s receiving it, it’s everybody watching it. When we set out a rule or an order, we need to stick to it; it’s there for a purpose. When you mess up, we’ve got to take care and remove you from the arena. Those people who we allow to stay around, it’s like a sore that festers and it makes us all sick, and it makes our profession worse than what it is.”
Campaign cash: $42,860.
More candidate info: Wayne Clark for Sheriff 2023.
Tony Cummings (D)
Candidate bio: Democrat Tony Cummings is on his third run for sheriff. He’s an Army veteran who started at JSO in 1995 and has worked as a training officer and detective in narcotics, burglary and missing persons. He also taught at Keiser University.
On why he’s running: “In 2013, I hit the streets of Sherwood Forest on Jacksonville’s Northside to run your sheriff to bring reform to the city of Jacksonville, because reform is sorely needed. … That’s how long we’ve been running in this sheriff race, and for good reason. … There’s a whole host of things that I’d like to share with you from expanding the size of the community affairs division, to increasing the minority hiring, to more effective expansion of community outreach, all of those things are going to hinge upon your participation in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and accountability and oversight of those resources.”
On what JSO is doing right: “What are we doing great? We’re doing nothing correct. … The only way we’re gonna get this right, folks, is a public accountability office that puts you inside the Sheriff’s Office to hold us accountable, to include the sheriff and his administration. It holds them accountable for what we do with that $500 million in taxes that you pay every single year.”
On what JSO is doing wrong: “We do not have a manpower or money issue in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. We have a management and leadership issue. My doctoral degree is in organizational leadership, and I have a master’s in organizational management. Two degrees that would come in pretty handy in the position as sheriff. But I can’t do it by myself. I need you. You’re always the missing link. The public is the missing link.”
On transparency: “No one’s holding anybody accountable. No one has oversight other than the folks inside the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. And what’s happening is these officers are hiding behind qualified immunity … Civil Service Board is not taking any action, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is not called in to investigate anything and the State Attorney’s Office won’t prosecute. Where does that leave us, folks? I’ll tell you where it leaves us. It leaves us to pursue a public accountability officer and civilian review board so you can have a seat at that table.”
On gun control: “There are things that the Congress is working hard right now to bring real reform, sensible reform, to the gun laws, so we can act on it in our community. … I’m offering a solution that will work. I want to have a public accountability office where you can connect with [JSO] and bring your people over and be properly trained to deal with active shooters.”
On school safety: “There was 400 officers out there in the hallways at Uvalde, didn’t stop a thing. Fortifying our schools and sending our kids to a bunker doesn’t stop a thing. We’ve got to get serious about how we treat mental illness in our community. I’m going to reinstitute the crisis intervention training program inside the Sheriff’s Office so we can go after these individuals in real time and try to mitigate some of these red flag issues.”
On police misconduct: “The thin blue wall exists, folks. If the officers could speak freely of the backlash of the Fraternal Order of Police, they will tell you, it exists. I’m a victim of it. I dared challenge the blue wall under the Glover administration when I heard an officer make a comment about the citizens of Northwest Jacksonville in Jacksonville’s Northside. … That civil service board my colleagues spoke of, protected her. The commander that she made that comment to over the phone, told me to my face, looked me in the eye and said, ‘You will never make rank on this agency.’ I am the most qualified candidate on this stage.”
Campaign cash: $18,702.
More candidate info: Tony Cummings for Sheriff.
Ken Jefferson (D)
Candidate bio: A three-time sheriff’s candidate, Ken Jefferson worked in JSO for 24 years, including as a training officer, detective, recruiter and public information officer. More recently, he was the “crime and safety expert” for News4Jax.
On why he’s running: “The police can’t solve crimes; you all solve crimes. That’s why it’s imperative that we have a relationship. I have the ability and the leadership to bring people together. You’ve seen me do it over the years with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. You see me do it with News4Jax, FOX30 and CBS47. I can do it again as your sheriff.”
On what JSO is doing right: “There are men and women who don the uniform every day, men and women of integrity, that go out and serve this community and they do it the right way. I had the honor and privilege of serving as a recruiter at one time and those were the type of people that I was looking for all over the state, and they were not hard to find, but you had to filter through them. Well, that’s been done the right way and that must continue.”
On what JSO is doing wrong: “What’s wrong is a missing sheriff. We need a sheriff who is unapologetic about reducing crime in our city. One that will not try to govern a sheriff’s office from behind the seat, behind the desk, one that will get out with the officers and will hit the streets. We’ll roll our sleeves up and we will get the job done. If we work together that way, you’ll see crime go down. It’s all about relationships.”
On transparency: “The very first thing that I want to do on my very first day in office is to sign an agreement, an MOU [memorandum of understanding] with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and have them investigate all police-involved shootings, as well as in-custody deaths. Give that to them, as a third party, they keep us informed as to how the investigation is going, the outcome of the investigation. It’s full transparency. … Secondly, I will make public records more accessible and more convenient for you, the public, as well as the press.”
On gun control: “As the sheriff, from my pulpit, I would advocate for stiffer penalties for those gun owners who are irresponsible, whose children, relatives and others get their weapons, use them on themselves or use them in violent crimes. I’ll be your biggest advocate for stiffer penalties for that.”
On school safety: “If I’m elected, what happened in Uvalde would never happen in Jacksonville. We run the truck, we don’t stand by and wait for an order. You got kids dying, crying, yelling and screaming? Even if it wasn’t children, it’s a human life in there and that bullet is so permanent. That will never happen on my watch.”
On police misconduct: “What we need to do is get rid of the civil service board. That’s what needs to be done because they can overrule a decision made by the sheriff. … The thing is you can vet, you can go through the background check, you can do all that sort of thing, but sometimes it still falls through the cracks. That’s why you have to hold him accountable and hold the sheriff accountable.”
Campaign cash: $69,829.
More candidate info: Ken Jefferson 4 Jax Sheriff.
T.K. Waters (R)
Candidate bio: The only Republican in the race, T.K. Waters retired from his role as JSO chief of investigations last month. He worked for the agency for 31 years and is endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Sheriff Williams.
On why he’s running: “In 1990, I came back to Jacksonville and when I got here, my first cousin – he was 19 years old, 10 months my junior – we were like brothers. He was murdered in an apartment complex on the Westside. He was robbed and shot in the back of the head. So the violence, I get. One hundred percent I get it. The reason I’m here today, and the reason I became a policeman, was because of his death. … I spent 31 years, just in Jacksonville and just in Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, because this agency I love, this city I love.”
On what JSO is doing right: “I’m not gonna knock any of these men and women that work there. They work really hard every single day to do the very best that they can. And I can tell you that I’ve worked in those offices, and I’ve worked those cases and those cases are not easy. They’re not easy to solve, but I can tell you that those guys don’t go home and those girls don’t go home just because they get tired.”
On what JSO is doing wrong: “There are some things that we’re going to do better. I can tell you one thing that I want to do, and that’s we want to decrease the size of our zones, not zones, but our beats where we patrol. Get our officers closer to our community again so we can talk. So you’ll know TK, so you’ll understand who I am. So I’ll know the people that are on these beats, because when I first started, that’s the way that it was.”
On transparency: “I want to start a larger PIO [public information officer] unit. We have three PIO’s for an agency with over 3,000 people. It’s not enough. I want to give every news channel in this town, I’d like to give them a liaison officer. One liaison officer for each outlet, so that they will have someone to go to to get the answers for you guys when you ask those questions.”
On gun control: “I do believe that at some point, we have to figure out a way to make sure that people who are prohibited from having guns cannot get a hold of them. And as my colleagues stated, burglary guns or guns that are stolen out of cars are crime guns. So we have to make sure those don’t fall into the wrong hands.”
On school safety: “I think we have to fortify, maybe that’s not the right word for it, strengthen our schools. People attack schools and churches because they believe they’re soft targets. We need to put a guy inside the vestibule area, where people know who he is and they know he has the ability to take care of business when it’s time to take care of business.”
On police misconduct: “A lot of my colleagues are here saying we just fire people, unfortunately, that’s not possible. We have an agency now that has a civil service board, the Fraternal Order of Police, and they often pit us against each other because of the situations. … We can’t stand abusive officers. That’s why we call a press conference every time we arrest one, because we want people to see that we’re out and we’re forward with it and we believe in getting rid of bad apples and we will continue to work to do that.”
Campaign cash: $1,409,373 (includes $400,473 reported to Duval elections and $1,008,900 to his PAC, A Safer Jacksonville for All).
More candidate info: TK for Sheriff.
Unless one candidate gets more than half of the vote in August’s special election, there will be a runoff election between the top two vote-getters on November 8.
The winner will only take the helm through the end of what would have been the end of William’s tenure, in March, had he not resigned early. That means whoever wins this fall will have to run again next March to keep charge of the sheriff’s office.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Lakesha Burton was a 20-year JSO employee. She has been with the agency for 24 years.