Watson, Mickens square off in race for St. Clair County Sheriff

News-DemocratMarch 14, 2014 

AP GRAPHIC

Incumbent St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson faces challenger Roy Mickens in the primary election Tuesday to determine the Democratic candidate in the race to lead the sheriff's department.

Watson, 57, of Cahokia, was appointed to the helm of the department in December 2012 following the death of former Sheriff Mearl Justus.

Mickens, 53, of East St. Louis, is a sergeant with the East St. Louis Police Department. No other candidates have entered the race.

Watson said his 35 years of experience in law enforcement along with leading the Sheriff's Department and Cahokia Police have given him the leadership skills to make "hard decisions."

"I'm here for the good of the community, for the good of the county," Watson said. "I've always done things that way. I have a 35-year track record of being honest, dedicated and having integrity. I'm not going to compromise that, believe me."

Mickens did not respond to repeated requests to be interviewed about his candidacy. He unsuccessfully ran against Justus in the 2009 Democratic primary.

In a questionnaire he submitted to the News-Democrat, Mickens said he has more than 20 years experience in law enforcement and the top issue in his campaign is addressing overcrowded jails by building a larger facility and resolving criminal offenses in a timely manner. He added he would encourage weekend jail time for offenders in their local municipal jails.

Watson also supports expanding the county jail and said he has made helping kids a priority during his time as sheriff through the Scared Straight, DARE and Explorer programs.

"I want to try and get to these kids when they are younger to teach them there are other avenues in life other than coming to jail. If I can help parents and help kids, that is my main focus right now. We have got to get to these kids when they are younger to show them going to school, getting a job and being a productive citizen is a good thing. Leading a life of crime is never going to get you anywhere other than trying to sleep with one eye open because you're worried the cops are going to break in your door," Watson said.

Watson said he has brought back programs that help all communities in the county. Those programs include expanding the department's Street Crimes Unit and Drug Tactical Unit, having a deputy placed with the U.S. Marshals Task Force to help local police apprehend suspects, a GED program to help inmates receive high school diplomas, and a rehabilitation program allowing inmates to perform manual labor in communities.

A new program also has deputies leave yellow cards for absent residents when the deputies have a crime prevention tip or investigate a nearby crime, Watson said.

"This is a proactive program," Watson said. "The card deputies put in the door of a business or home let you know we were in the neighborhood. Maybe, you left your car door unlocked or dome light on. Whatever it is we're letting you know you could be a potential victim of crime. We're in the neighborhood and looking out for your well-being."

Watson said the department's staff has been "unbelievable" in how well they responded to changes he introduced.

"My style is we're here to help people and treat them with respect," Watson said, noting it was impossible to "outwork" him. "It doesn't matter if we're arresting you or investigating a crime, we're going to treat victims and suspects with respect and treat the community with respect."

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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