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Law & Order

FCC Recap: Ken Jefferson Promises 'No More Drive-By Cops'

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Ken Jefferson for Sheriff
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Taking a veiled swipe at the current Jacksonville Sheriff's Officer leadership, Ken Jefferson says that if he's elected sheriff he won't "govern from behind the desk."

"I want to re-introduce the Police Department back to the community," said Jefferson, the Democratic candidate in the race to replace outgoing Sheriff John Rutherford.  

"What I'm finding out from my walks and talks all over the city is that people basically see 'drive-by cops.' There's no interaction."

Jefferson, the JSO's former spokesman, currently holds a double-digit lead over Republican Mike Williams in the May 19 runoff.  He enjoys high name recognition around town from his years as the agency's Public Information Officer and also from a stint as WJXT-TV's crime analyst.

On the other hand, Williams has Rutherford's endorsement, will stress his former role as director of Investigations and Homeland Security, and is expected to present a unified message alongside Republican mayoral candidate Lenny Curry over the next eight weeks when it comes to Jacksonville's public safety concerns.

Violent crime and gangs

The city's violent crime problem has emerged as a major campaign issue in both the mayor's and sheriff's races.

Jefferson, an African-American, promises a 25 percent reduction in violent crime and gang activity in his first year in office by more aggressively targeting drug and gang activity. He says he'll establish a proactive Street Crimes Unit and also implement CompStat software within the department to target outbreaks of criminal activity.

"We have to admit we that have a gang issue here in Jacksonville. We can't hide behind the idea that gangs in Jacksonville don't meet the definition of gangs in L.A. and Chicago. We have a gang issue and we have to address it," he said during an appearance on WJCT's First Coast Connect.

"Crime and criminals have a propensity to move. And wherever they move within our city, that's where our street crimes unit will go," Jefferson said. "We're going to drive them out. And disrupt and dismantle all the crime that's going on here in Jacksonville."

Promising to walk neighborhoods regularly if elected, and mentor kids aged 9-12 for one hour a month (along with his senior staff) Jefferson stresses that he's the only candidate in the race with a written plan laying out comprehensive steps for crime reduction.

'A solely independent elected official'

And he's striking an independent tone, a marked contrast to the expected GOP messaging in the two top-of-the-ticket contests in Duval.

"I don't intend to be in lockstep with anyone. I will be a solely independent elected official. I do look forward to working with the mayor, whomever that is. But everyone has their own race to run and their own platform.  Ultimately, the sheriff, the mayor and the prosecutor must work hand-in-hand with the ultimate objective of having public safety as a priority so our citizens can be safe in this city," he said.

Jefferson also expressed disappointment that a recent pension reform proposal was shot down by the Jacksonville City Council.

"We've got to stop kicking the can down the road. We've been doing that for many, many years. There was a bill that was proposed, and I thought it was a pretty decent bill, and I was shocked that they became deadlocked. I thought it was an opportunity to move forward in the best interests of everyone involved," he said.

Noncommittal on whether the city's controversial red light cameras are a net plus for public safety, Jefferson was also measured in his response to a caller question about police body cameras.

"I'm not opposed to body cameras, because I think they'll be the wave of the future for many law enforcement agencies. I understand the outrage from the public and the call for body cameras. But let's look at every aspect of it first. There are things I'd want to evaluate before making a final decision because body cameras may not be the cure-all for all our ills right now. A prudent leader should weigh it out and that's what I intend to do."

Citizens Advisory Council

Jefferson also says he'd implement a Citizens Advisory Council rather than a Review Board to provide oversight of police conduct in the city, an issue activists have rallied around for years. The most recent police-involved shooting  at the Cleveland Arms Apartments — the third in just 18 days — has the issue flaring once again.

"Citizens Review Boards have proven in other cities not to be as effective as people thought they would be," he said.  "I'm in favor of embodying a Citizens Advisory Council for the purposes of advising the Sheriff's Office on how we can better serve the community.  I think a police department should reflect the community that it serves. So this Council would have representatives from across our 800-mile area, be our eyes and ears, provide feedback, and make sure everyone has a voice at the table."

And Jefferson says he'd like to see more funding for crime prevention and intervention efforts, which have decreased in recent years in the wake of a crushing recession and slow recovery.

"The Jacksonville Journey proved to be successful, when it was funded. We had the resources, we had the manpower, we had everything we needed to combat crime. Whomever is elected mayor, I look forward to working with them and furthering the Journey's mission to stop violent crime. The stats don't lie. When we were funded and the resources were properly deployed and we had the manpower out there, crime went down."

After the scrum of the First Election for sheriff with its seven candidates, Jefferson, an African-American Democrat, is now in a binary contest against Williams, a white Republican. As so often is the case in runoffs like this one, base turnout on both sides will be key. If Mayor Alvin Brown's turnout game bests Lenny Curry's- or vice versa- the candidates in the sheriff's race also stand to benefit.

Listen to the entire interview with Ken Jefferson on today's episode of the First Coast Connect podcast.

Tune in tomorrow for an extended First Coast Connect interview with Mike Williams.