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Monday, December 04, 2023
Alachua County Sheriff Candidates 2020

Sadie Darnell, 68

Current Alachua County Sheriff

Who is Sadie Darnell?

  • Alachua County Sheriff for more than 13 years
  • Born and raised in Gainesville
  • Worked her entire 42-year law enforcement career in Alachua County
  • Related to Gainesville native Tom Petty
  • Graduate of Alachua County Public Schools; Bachelor’s degree in psychology from UF; Master’s degree in educational leadership from UF

Campaign Finances

Monetary contributions: $43,885

Total spending: $40,919.03

All information from Voter Focus, as of Sunday

What are highlights of Darnell’s previous terms?

To Darnell, her greatest achievement in her 13 years as sheriff was ACSO achieving the highest accreditation, which is decided by The Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation to award law enforcement agencies with high standards and accountability.

Darnell said she has focused her tenure on children and youth programs, training her deputies to properly manage situations with youth. All school resource deputies are trained in ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences, to identify childhood experiences that could hinder success later in life and help work around these issues, she added.

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Darnell said she takes pride in how she handled the 2008 recession when she was a fairly new sheriff. Despite nationwide economic struggles, no Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Alachua County Jail or law enforcement employees were laid off.

What is Darnell’s perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement and police reform?

During Darnell’s time as sheriff, she said she advocated for the transformation of law enforcement in response to police brutality.

Darnell said she also focused on incarceration disparities highlighted by the BLM movement and worked to keep young people out of jails, she said.

Proposals that are now reaching the national level were previously enforced in Alachua County, Darnell said. No-knock warrants were banned in Florida in 1994, which shows that Florida has traditionally been more progressive than other states, she said.

Chokeholds have been banned by ACSO for more than a decade, Darnell added.

Darnell also said she implemented the Racial and Ethnic Disparity/Disproportionate Minority Contacts initiative training for all deputies and detention officers. The training aims to establish relationships between law enforcement and community members, especially with minority youth who may have been distrustful of officers in the past.

As her deputies enter their fourth year of training, ACSO has provided officers with an opportunity to discuss and reflect on police reform to better serve minority communities, she said.

“I support the need for change in law enforcement so that we are not viewed so negatively by, especially minorities of color, Black and brown communities, but surely by all people,” she said.

What are some ideas Darnell has, if reelected?

If reelected, Darnell said she plans to continue developing community youth programs. She said she hopes the focus on childhood trauma will ensure that officers respond to situations involving the youth appropriately.

“Our job is to nurture, and when we have to take enforcement action, we will,” Darnell said.

Darnell said she supports prohibiting countywide arrests of children under the age of 12. ACSO school resource officers are instructed to limit arrests of children under 12 unless deemed necessary.

ACSO needs improvement in implicit racial bias and systemic racism, Darnell said. She said she would hire someone trained in studying racial disparities to review all ACSO procedures and directives.

“I want to make sure people recognize that we are forward thinking and well-advanced, while there are other areas that are still a need for improvement,” she said.

Darnell linked her childhood to her desire to represent the Alachua County community as sheriff.

While her father’s career in the U.S. Air Force forced her to move around, she said she has always thought of Gainesville as her home.

“Gainesville was always home base and continues to be my home,” Darnell said. “It's a youthful community, a vibrant community and I will always consider it my home.”

Clovis Watson Jr., 61

Florida House of Representatives 20th District

Who is Clovis Watson Jr.?

  • Current Representative in the Florida House of Representatives
  • Born and raised in Alachua, Florida
  • Graduate of Santa Fe College’s Police Academy; Bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Alabama; Master’s Degree in interdisciplinary studies from Mountain State University; Master’s Degree in business administration from Northcentral University
  • Started at Alachua Police Department in 1983

Campaign Finances

Monetary contributions: $83,537.20

Total spending: $81,111.50

All information from Voter Focus as of Sunday

What is Watson’s previous experience?

Watson said he entered the law enforcement equipped with an unusual perspective.

“As a young boy, sometimes you feel untrusted,” Watson said. “You feel sometimes targeted by law enforcement when I was growing up, but there were also good law enforcement officers who mentored us, who made us feel important and made us feel like we mattered. And that is what made me want to get into law enforcement.”

In the 1980s, Watson said he began his career in law enforcement through the Alachua Police Department. During his 20-year span with the department, he worked his way up the ranks, becoming a sergeant and a deputy chief.

He told The Alligator that he was promoted from deputy chief to Alachua City Manager in 2002, where he stayed for nearly 10 years. While he no longer worked in the police department, his day-to-day operations still included law enforcement: Watson said he was responsible for hiring the police chief and budgeting the police department.

After nearly 30 years with the City of Alachua, Watson retired in 2009. However, his career as a public servant didn’t end, he said. Watson ran for the Florida House of Representatives in 2012 and won. He was reelected three other times.

He is currently in office as a legislator, and his last day will be Nov. 2.

What is Watson’s perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement on police reform?

As a legislator, Watson said he pushed for criminal justice reform, motivated by his previous experience in law enforcement.

“We must make all citizens comfortable,” he said. “No one should be uncomfortable with the sheriff's office or any police department.”

Watson said he believes that ACSO needs to emphasize community policing to build relationships and establish a good rapport between residents and law enforcement officers.

ACSO should enter the community and engage with individuals and non-profit organizations for more than looking for unrest or crime, Watson said. Building these relationships will help to identify young people who may need mentorship or mental health support.

“Law enforcement reform is not anti-law enforcement, it is pro-law enforcement and pro-community,” Watson said. “So, we need to engage.”

To Watson, ACSO must also focus on de-escalating potentially stressful situations. If an officer approaches a young person undergoing stress or an individual with mental health issues, help and counseling should be a first resort before jail, he said.

Watson also added that diversity training should be a priority for officers and deputies.

“We all don't worship alike,” Watson said. “We all don’t think alike. We don't all live the same way, and we have to respect the uniqueness of every group and every person. That’s what is so powerful about Alachua County. There are so many different cultures, backgrounds, perspectives, beliefs and walks of life.”

What are some ideas Watson has, if elected?

If elected, Watson has a four-idea plan to revitalize ACSO.

ACSO should put a metaphorical star on every municipality building, Watson said. Putting a star on every building would mean increasing consistent presence in areas that do not have their own police department, including Waldo, Newberry and Hawthorne.

In these cities, ACSO officers handle calls and patrol.

While ACSO officers must increase their presence, Watson said they also must improve their community outreach. Watson would schedule officers in the same municipalities to establish consistency with the community.

Watson said that if the same officers are repeatedly seen throughout the city week after week, they will get to know the community and the community will get to know them.

While on the road, officers should wear body cameras to protect both law enforcement and citizens, Watson said. He said cameras provide an impartial eyewitness and a sense of security.

ACSO officers shouldn’t only be working when crimes are being committed, he said. When all is well, deputies should work with community-based programs to establish a presence and trust, he added.

“America is broken,” Watson said. “Florida is broken with all that is happening right now, and we need bold, courageous, strong leadership to get us through these most difficult times. We need a movement of change so that we can address these critical issues, and I think in this time in our history, I am the one who's prepared to do that.”

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