PEORIA COUNTY (Heart of Illinois ABC) — Two candidates are on the ballot to become Peoria County’s next sheriff, which could be decided in the primary election. The work protects and serves more than 180,000 people in 631 square miles.

Peoria County voters have a choice of two Republicans for sheriff, running 190 staff and overseeing an $18 million budget.

Capt. Chris Watkins believes his experience in different ranks at the sheriff’s office gives him important perspective.

“I think the institutional knowledge and the relationships that I’ve built over the years, I’ve held every position in the sheriff’s office for the past 18 years,” Watkins said.

With 21 years in the sheriff’s office, Lt. Jason Buckley says his upbringing puts him at the top.

“I not only have the experience, but also the education and training to go with it and that makes for the best package,” Buckley said.

Both candidates say they are ready to meet the current challenges of the office.

“Recruitment and retention is by far our biggest concern,” Watkins said.

“Staffing right now is paramount and straightforward,” Buckley said.

Both aim to expose young people to office jobs. Buckley says he plans to bring back the “Explorer Program” for young people to learn the job and possibly build a pool of candidates. Watkins says he is working with lawmakers to lower the hiring age, which is currently 21.

“It’s my house, it’s where I plan to stay, so I want to make sure it’s safe. I want people to go to bed at night and not worry about their house being broken into or no, I take that personally,” Watkins said.

“Violence and gun violence must be dealt with,” Buckley continued, “through good, fair and balanced policing.”

Without a Democratic opponent, the June 28 primary could determine the next sheriff.

“They want someone who’s nice and well trained and who’s a good person and I believe over the years I’ve demonstrated that I’m that guy,” Buckley said.

“As a sheriff, you had a lot of hats. I’ve worn all of these hats. You want someone who knows what each department is doing,” Watkins said.

Copyright 2022 Heart of Illinois ABC. All rights reserved.

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