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Sheriff Mike Williams and Jacksonville University President Tim Cost at a news conference to release task force reports.
Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Nov. 22, 201612:00 PM EST

Reports call for more officers, funding and transparency for Jacksonville Sheriff's Office

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by: David Chapman

One of the first things Sheriff Mike Williams did after taking office last year was to establish a series of community-led task forces dealing with key components of policing.

Part of the effort can be told in numbers.

Four committees, 50 people, nearly 1,000 hours and an 81-page report.

The latter was handed off to Williams on Monday morning on the Southbank Riverwalk, a document more than a year in the making.

“This was not a cosmetic undertaking,” said Jacksonville University President Tim Cost, who served as the overall chair to the committees’ efforts. “We looked at law enforcement through a different lens than we ever had before.”

The task forces were led by business and civic leaders who reviewed topics of community engagement, transparency, resources and training.

And they dealt with myriad issues ranging from suggestions for body cameras and citizen oversight and review boards to millage rates and additional hires.

Community engagement

Led by Susan Towler, Florida Blue Foundation executive director, the largest task force established a lofty vision for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

It said every Duval County citizen should have at least one positive interaction a year with the office, in order to exceed the community’s expectation of the police agency.

The group believes it can be achieved through strengthening existing community programs, developing stronger partnerships, improving measurements and evaluations, and enhancing opportunities for citizen involvement.

For example, one of the subject areas was African-American males and males of color. A suggestion is the sheriff’s office should convene meetings twice annually of existing programs that serve and mentor those populations and address questions and concerns.

An expanded liaison program for a host of citizen-related boards was consistent throughout the report.

And it was suggested there should be a revision to the Sheriff’s Advisory Council, commonly known as ShAdCo, and Citizen Planning Advisory Committee. No specific suggestions were provided.

Another idea was there shouldn’t be any new programs created. Instead, the ones in place needed to be measured and evaluated because the group said it wasn’t clear how they all worked together and benefited the public.

Transparency

The group dealt with some of the more hot-button issues of the day like body cameras, public records and citizen review boards.

As for body cameras, the task force recommends implementing them “as soon as possible.”

If widespread use isn’t financially possible, a pilot program for up to 10 percent of officers should be considered and officers phased in and out of training.

Williams has been working on a pilot program and said Monday the plan is still on track for spring.

How public records are handled needs tweaking, the task force said.

Better communication was needed with media and individuals, as well as officers who are having their files pulled.

When it came to process, it was suggested the office begin charging for records at 20 minutes of time spent, rather than 30 minutes, and that a majority of the cost be collected up front.

Oversight boards were addressed, but there is a wide range of options that could be pursued.

In all, 146 communities are part of the National Association of Civilian Oversight for Law Enforcement.

Each has a different level of oversight — some are voluntary, some are done legislatively, some don’t cost anything, some are funded.

Wayne Young, JEA government affairs director and transparency task force chair, said it would need to be determined which model fit Jacksonville.

Yet, as the report noted, one is needed as “the exclusion of citizen involvement can give rise to the perception of bias and lack of accountability, real or imagined,” that erodes trust and cooperation.

Resources

The task force dealing with resources determined the agency needed to hire 400 officers — bringing the force up to about 2,000 — to cover a city the size of Jacksonville.

Pay and benefits for existing members also should be increased along with steps taken to have a competitive, reliable pension plan.

All that would cost an unknown amount, but the task force does have a possible funding source: A “reasonable” millage increase that would bring Jacksonville more in line with other Florida cities for funding city services.

What a “reasonable” increase would be wasn’t suggested.

The idea that Jacksonville “has been a city trying to get by on the cheap for a long time was mostly true,” the task force opined.

And while Mayor Lenny Curry, Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature are addressing the pensions, “more needed to be done, especially on the millage issue.”

Curry has pushed back on increasing the city’s property tax levels since he campaigned for the post.

The task force, led by Jim Casey, Stein Mart security director and retired special agent in charge of the FBI Jacksonville field office, also suggested more needed to be done on a salary standpoint.

Starting officers in Jacksonville made $36,240, the report said, well below peers like Tampa ($47,320), Orlando ($46,631) and Miami ($50,490).

Additionally, the required education level of a bachelor’s degree for Jacksonville officers was high, leading the group to suggest officers in the city are among the highest educated but lowest paid.

Training

The task force led by Daniel Bean, Holland & Knight law firm managing partner, reviewed training in an effort to reduce injuries and fatalities on the job.

It was suggested the office continue to participate in national leadership practices, where it could be part of discussions of best practices and improved awareness tactics.

One tangible idea was to update the officer physical fitness course, basing it more on the types of obstacles officers face in the field.

It also was suggested the office encourage additional physical fitness and wellness programs that officers could pursue in their free time.

When it came to security threats, the task force said the office has an impressive track record and should continue on a path to consolidating programs and areas into one strategic oversight unit. Such an effort might require a slight increase in personnel.

What’s next?

Williams on Monday said he hadn’t seen the report, but had heard bits and pieces that had been discussed.

He said his hope is the litany of recommendations would feature items the office had not thought of before.

He plans in the coming weeks to “digest” the report and address “each and every single” recommendation, although he didn’t have a timetable for how long that could take.

Late February or early March could serve as a check-up on those answers, he said.

[email protected]

@writerchapman

(904) 356-2466

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