(The Center Square) — Voters in Caddo Parish will have two distinctly different options for sheriff when they cast ballots next month for a third time in as many elections.
The second runoff between Democrat Henry Whitehorn and Republican John Nickelson set for March 23 follows an election in November that initially went to Whitehorn by one vote out of more than 43,000 cast.
A recount did not change the result, but voting irregularities raised by Nickelson in a legal challenge convinced a judge to order a new election. An appeals court panel upheld that ruling, and the state Supreme Court declined to review the case.
“What really separates me and my opponent in this race is the policies we’d implement if elected,” Nickelson told The Center Square. “We’re going to work hard every day to make sure voters understand their choice.”
The winner will take over a department currently helmed by Chief Deputy Jay Long following the retirement of Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator announced on Friday. Prator, who spent two dozen years as sheriff of Caddo Parish, was appointed by Gov. Jeff Landry to serve on the state’s Board of Pardons.
Prator endorsed Nickelson as his replacement, noting in media interviews that despite his lack of law enforcement background, Nickelson has the leadership qualities necessary to manage a department of 600 employees.
The former Shreveport city councilman highlighted views on stop-and-frisk policies, plans for reducing the jail population, and priorities for funding as the significant differences in the race.
“There’s been a great deal of discussion … about whether or not law enforcement should be permitted to stop individuals reasonably suspected of crimes” for searches, Nickelson said. “Stops of this nature are a part of good police work.”
“We have to support law enforcement and give them the tools they need to do their job,” he said.
Nickelson suggested the parish judicial system is to blame for a parish jail population that has swelled well beyond its designed capacity and is urging voters to reject any plans to address the issue through early releases.
Nickelson also opposes diverting portions of the department’s roughly $70 million budget toward social service programs and has taken aim at his opponent’s work while serving as former Shreveport Major Adrian Perkins’ chief of staff.
The race for Caddo Sheriff boils down to “fundamentally, what is the role of the sheriff in Caddo Parish?” Nickelson said. “The job of the sheriff of Caddo Parish is to enforce the law.”
Whitehorn’s platform touts his “over four decades of Public Safety experience,” which included time as Shreveport’s police chief.
“As sheriff, I will work with juvenile authorities, social service agencies, and local legislators to create youth programs that will support the positive development of our youth and help keep them out of trouble,” his campaign website reads. “I will create a summer job program for young people to work in the Sheriff’s Office where they will be exposed to law enforcement and possible career opportunities.”
A message left with Whitehorn’s campaign was not returned by press time. The special runoff election is not expected to come with a significant cost to Caddo Parish as it coincides with the presidential primary, local elections officials said.