Willie Jones says that being a police officer was never about the number of tickets he wrote or arrests he made. His main concern was that citizens were getting the help they needed. He says this philosophy of "community policing" has driven him for nearly four decades in his career in law enforcement. This outlook is desperately needed in Broward, Jones says, and will help restore faith in police, especially among minority and disenfranchised communities.
"People do not trust the police to provide and protect them any longer," Jones says. "Broward County is not being policed the way it should in the 21st Century. Law enforcement should be about improving people's lives."
Jones, age 61, is running against Scott Israel for Broward Sheriff. Jones announced his candidacy last June. There are two other Democrats running against Israel: Edison Jules of Ohio and Donald Jones, a former cop who is no longer certified in Florida but who holds a cosmetologist license. As the August election nears, all three are long shots to beat incumbent Israel.
A South Florida native, Jones graduated from Central High in Miami and became a corrections officer. He says he found compassion for people in jail. In 1980, Jones joined the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. He became the first African-American FLPD officer to ride horses as part of the Mounted Equestrian Unit. Then Jones founded Alliance of Involved Minorities (now called the Fort Lauderdale Black Police Officer's Association) and served as its first president.
Jones resigned from FLPD in 1987. He says he wanted to focus more on giving back to the community. He worked as a consultant for public-housing projects and then as a project coordinator with the Urban League of Broward County.
But he couldn't stay away for long. In the late 1990s, he returned as a Broward sheriff's officer and was promoted to sergeant. He says he was assigned to Pompano Beach and tasked with improving relations between police and the community.
Jones says that if elected, he would reach out to civilians, link them to nonprofits and programs to help them, and increase transparency within the department.
"It's not about being soft on crime," Jones says. "It's about looking at the human side of policing, understanding who we are serving and why. That's the real reason I'm running, to have a positive impact."
It's this skill — connecting disenfranchised minority citizens with police — that Jones says Broward County desperately needs. He points to the shooting death of Jermaine McBean, who in July 2013 was killed by a BSO officer while walking home with an airsoft gun over his shoulders. Officer Peter Peraza was indicted for manslaughter following the incident, which highlighted tensions between the black community and police.
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Jones says he's reluctant to campaign negatively against Israel, but in September, he called out the sheriff's office for printing Israel's image on the sides of five taxpayer-funded BSO patrol cars. Jones called it self-promotion and an election-year tactic. The wraps of Israel's image were later removed.
Israel recently announced he supports body cameras. Jones shrugs. "Body cameras will soon be state-mandated," he believes.
Broward Supervisor of Elections reports show that Israel has raised $262, 439 to Jones's $22,125. (Edison Jules has raised $12,350 and Donald Jones, nothing.)
Jones says he's not dissuaded by the financial disadvantage. "If this electorate cycle has taught us anything, just because you have the most money doesn't mean you're going to win," Jones says.