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Sheriff candidate Juan ‘Shug’ Watkins seeks public involvement

Editor’s Note: Individual stories were written for each of the St. John Sheriff candidates. Mike Tregre and Clarence Gray Jr. were featured in recent editions.

LAPLACE — If elected to St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff, Sergeant Juan “Shug” Watkins Sr.’s first priority would be to promote an open door policy for all St. John residents.

Partnerships between the public, police and local governing agencies are vital to community protection, according to Watkins. With 30 years of law enforcement experience in St. John Parish, Watkins is confident he can move the community forward.

“I’m very committed and dedicated, and I’m very approachable,” Watkins said.

“I think it’s very important that the community and the police are on the same page. I want to see the sheriff’s office, the district attorney’s office, the school board office and the superintendent all on the same page, and I would try to meet with them at least once a month.”

Watkins will appear on the Oct. 12 election ballot alongside Clarence Gray Jr. and current St. John Sheriff Mike Tregre. As the top law enforcement officer in the parish, the sheriff is responsible for enforcing laws, maintaining the correctional facility and protecting the public from harm.

If no candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote in the Oct. 12 election, a run-off election will be held on Nov. 16.

Watkins has dreamed of running for St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff for many years, and he is eager to continue his family’s tradition of outstanding community service.

“I grew up in St. John the Baptist Parish living with my grandparents and watched them become very involved in the community,” Watkins said. “It was a passion to me to follow in their footsteps for the love I have for the people of this parish.”

His grandmother, Emily C. Watkins, worked in education for more than 50 years and had a LaPlace elementary school named in her honor. Education has been a theme in Watkins’ family, as his father served on the St. John Parish School Board in a leadership position for 29 years. His brother worked as an educator and a principal for 30-plus years.

Watkins’ mother, Blanche Watkins, has also been highly involved in the community.

While law enforcement was Watkins’ chosen path, he has worked closely with the local schools as St. John the Baptist Parish’s first D.A.R.E. officer.

He has visited classrooms to talk to children about the dangers of drugs and the importance of resisting peer pressure. Watkins has additionally escorted football, basketball and baseball teams for St. John the Baptist Parish schools.

He’s worked off-duty details around the community and has been part of many local fairs and festivals.

“Interacting with the young kids and the people of the parish gave me a passion for this, and I think this job has helped me and qualified me to be the next sheriff,” Watkins said.

Watkins is a 1984 graduate of East St. John High School and a 1988 graduate of Grambling State University, where he obtained a degree in criminal justice. He started working at the St. John Sheriff’s Office in 1989 under the leadership of former Sheriff Lloyd Johnson.

Watkins is a graduate of LSU Basic Law Enforcement Academy, where he received his Peace Office Standards and Training Certification. He has numerous hours of training certifications and certificates in law enforcement.
Over the years, he’s worked in patrol, the criminal investigations division and the street crimes unit. He has worked closely with narcotics on numerous occasions and volunteered his time to working with sex offender cases.

According to Watkins, a successful sheriff must be honest, dedicated and committed. Prior leadership experience is a must, he said, pointing to his experience as a commander in the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Watkins said a great sheriff must also be a people’s person capable of providing a positive working environment. He plans to boost morale at the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office by bringing officers together for family-oriented activities outside of work.

“When I was a shift commander, we would get the entire shirt of 12 or 13 people together to go bowling,” Watkins said. “We would shoot pool and have barbecues and picnics at each others’ houses. I want to bring back the camaraderie. This is our family. We spent a lot of time around each other, so we need to get along.”

Watkins wants to bring the same spirit out into the community by fostering positive interaction with local churches and implementing programs to improve quality of life for children and seniors.

Afterschool recreational activities are especially important for today’s youth, and Watkins feels the St. John Sheriff’s Office can be more involved in supporting children outside of school walls.

He wants the St. John Sheriff’s Office to continue offering mentorship programs to teach young gentlemen life skills including etiquette at the table, opening car doors for others and putting on a tie. An expanded program would also open mentorship to young girls.

If elected, Watkins looks forward to assembling a likeminded command team of hardworking officers. He and his team would jump into action immediately to go over the budget and set tangible goals.

“Every year at election, people will make promises,” Watkins said. “I’m not one to promise you things. I’m not a politician. I’m running for sheriff because I truly believe that I can get the things done that I say I will do.”