Jefferson County Sheriff’s Maj. Lafayette Woods Jr. is the winner in a three-way race for the Democratic Party’s nomination for sheriff as a result of voting in Tuesday’s Democratic Primary. There was no Republican candidate for the seat.
Woods will replace current Sheriff Gerald Robinson, who is stepping down at the end of the year. Robinson was also just elected Jefferson County judge.
Woods fought off challenges from former deputy Larry Gragg and retired State Police Investigator Roger McLemore to win without a runoff.
Complete but unofficial voting totals are:Woods 4,639 Gragg 1,754 McLemore 1,769
“I’m humbled by the numbers,” Woods said Tuesday night. “I’ve been blessed by support from the entire community the entire way.”
Woods said that while he had been involved in other campaigns, particularly those of his father, who is the Jefferson County circuit clerk and of current Sheriff Gerald Robinson, "It’s different when you’re running your own campaign. There has been no stone that I’ve left unturned, be it social media, door to door, mailers, you name it I’ve done it.”
As the operations commander and public spokesman for the sheriff’s department, Woods was the hand-picked choice of Robinson to replace him at the top.
He has been on the job since 2004 and worked uniform patrol until being reassigned to the Tri-County Drug Task Force and loaned to the Drug Enforcement Administration where he worked undercover narcotics. He said he almost went to work for the DEA full time before Robinson talked him out of it and he has been with the department ever since.
“It’s been a bittersweet career,” Woods said. “I am following a higher power and the Lord put me in this place at this time. This is the next step in my career because there is nowhere else to go.”
Asked about the county’s budget and the lack of funds available, Woods said “we’ve got challenges in public safety and recruitment because there’s not a lot of money. We’re trying to recruit qualified people who want to make a career and not just have a job.”
To that end, Woods said he frequently attends career fairs and Southeast Arkansas College and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and the department also offers internships which will pay students and allow them to receive college credit at the same time.
He said that in 2015, the department’s budget was cut “but we were still expected to do the same job. We know the challenges because no matter what, we’re expected to provide the same level of services.”
Woods said that Jefferson County is one of the largest counties in the state and the demand for services is great “but we don’t control the price of gas.”
He said his first priority as sheriff will be to evaluate the command staff and ensure that “people are the most effective and most needed.”
“Second, I want to make sure the department has all the resources and tools we need to make the job easier. We do a good job but there’s always room for improvement."
Another plan is to reactivate the junior deputy program, which, he said, “has gone downhill for the last couple of years. We want to try to reach kids in grade school and get them excited about a career in law enforcement. We already do a program for kids with the Sheriff’s Fun Day every year but we can reach out in other ways as well.”
With his number of years in drug investigations, Woods said he will “vigorously go after those that sell drugs,” including the unauthorized use of prescription drugs.
“We’ve got to learn to do more with less,” Woods said.