2020 Primary Preview: Alachua County Sheriff

13-year incumbent Sheriff Sadie Darnell is challenged by District 20 State Representative Clovis Watson Jr.
Published: Aug. 13, 2020 at 11:27 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - A history in law enforcement, years of leadership and breaking through the glass ceiling and other barriers. Sheriff Sadie Darnell and District 20 State Representative Clovis Watson Jr., share similarities as each candidate runs for the Democratic nomination for Alachua County’s sheriff.

When it comes to improvements to be made to the Sheriff’s Office, the candidates offer differing opinions. “The situation here is that the agency is very strong, very stable, headed in the right direction and now is not the time for change,” said Darnell.

Watson imagines stronger community relations if he were elected to office. “There is no community without law enforcement and there is no law enforcement without community. We must work together and that is what a Sheriff Watson will bring to the table.”

The only woman as sheriff in the state and the first to serve in Alachua county. “I want to continue to lead it in the right direction,” said Darnell. For the past 13 years, Darnell has led the jail, the Combined Communications Center and more than 900 employees.

"My proposed budget right now as it stands is less than one percent increase over last years, that's without the body cameras." Darnell added, "but because of the push nationally and the need for transparency, we're speeding up that process. So I will be making that known to the board of county commissioners that I would like to have cameras and our deputies want to have those cameras."

A former police officer, the first black City Manager of Alachua and now State Representative for District 20. Watson said, "we need leadership who are bold, courageous and disciplined."

It's not just another gig for Watson who advocates for trust and could be the county's first black Sheriff. "I think if you look at having body cams for all of our deputies, in those special units."

Watson added, "It doesn't only protect law enforcement its protects the community. It establishes a level, that will help establish a level of trust and rapport because everyone will know what is happening, whatever you do, it's being watched."

With nationwide scrutiny of law enforcement agencies following the death of George Floyd, the candidates tell TV20 how they plan to earn the public’s trust.

“But I will tell you that the Alachua County Sheriff’s office is way ahead of most law enforcement agencies across the United States,” said incumbent Darnell. “We’re well positioned, we have been trained on racial inequity and racial injustice, disparity and disproportionate minority contact and we’re in our fourth year of that training.”

Watson said, “But reach out into the community to establish a rapport, a partnership to work with different non-profit organizations and different community organizations to establish that not only rapport and partnership but a level of trust because what we’re experiencing right now in this very difficult time in our history, we must create a level of trust.”

Due to write-in candidate Rob Brinkman qualifying, only registered Democrats can cast their vote.

Early voting in Alachua county ends Saturday at 6 pm. Click here for more on North Central Florida candidates in the upcoming Primary election.

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