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FCC Recap: Mike Williams Says He's Most Experienced Sheriff Candidate


Calling himself the most experienced candidate in the race, Republican Mike Williams says the JSO "needs to do more" to reach out to communities in Jacksonville who don't trust or cooperate with the police.

In the March 24 Unitary First Election, Williams came in second to Democrat Ken Jefferson, the agency's former public information officer. Williams has hinted he may soon draw the support of other contenders, like Jay Farhat who did not make it to the runoff.

Like his opponent, Williams says he's laser-focused on reducing the city's violent-crime rate.

"From day one we've been talking about the violent-crime problem in Jacksonville," he said during an appearance on WJCT's First Coast Connect. "If you look at overall crime numbers, we are at a 43-year low, but if you dig down into those numbers, you see that obviously we have a violence problem in Jacksonville driven by the drug trade."

Williams says opening up the review process in incidents like the recent police-involved shooting at the city's Cleveland Arms Apartments would go a long way toward restoring public trust in law enforcement. Police-shooting boards in Jacksonville were closed to the public after a union lawsuit, he says.

"The problem we have today is there won't be a lot of conversation from our agency until the end of the review process, and that doesn't build trust," Williams said. "If anything, it erodes trust. You've got too long of a block of silence there. We've got to push to change that - you've got to be able to be transparent and get the facts out to people. I think if we do that it would go a long way to build trust in the community."

Leadership Experience

Williams lags behind Jefferson in name recognition, but he's touting the support of outgoing Sheriff John Rutherford and the top posts he held within the JSO as advantages on the campaign trail. His stints include Director of Patrol and Director of Investigations and Homeland Security.

"I had command of about 1,100 police officers and oversight of half the agency's $400 million budget. That was the No. 3 spot in the agency," he said. "So the difference now is administrative experience and leading large numbers of people and overseeing large pieces of the budget. I have a track record on that, and Ken doesn't."

Williams is in accord with Jefferson about the need to fix Jacksonville's pension mess - "the sooner the better," he said- but differs with him on other hot-button issues, such as the legalization of marijuana and Jacksonville's controversial red-light cameras. He says he's against legalizing even small amounts of pot and mainly supports the cameras, although he says there may be too many of them installed around town.

Reducing Violent Crime

And Williams says Jefferson's pledge to reduce violent crime by 25 percent during his first year in office isn't realistic.

"I won't say the same thing. I've seen what it takes to move the needle on violent crime, and 25 percent in the first year without 300 new officers hitting the streets is gonna be tough to do."

He says he would, however, work from day one to hire back community service officers lost during budget cuts. "They did a great job for us as a force multiplier by allowing others to build relationships in the neighborhoods, and that's what we've got to get back to," he said.

Whoever becomes sheriff will be expected to fight for more funding for public safety, which has emerged as a major campaign issue in Jacksonville's mayor's race as well.

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

Tune in to yesterday's episode for an extended First Coast Connect interview with Ken Jefferson.

Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.