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Police reform effort comes to abrupt halt

Jacksonville City Councilman Sam Newby
Council President Sam Newby terminated the Safer Together group.

Safer Together, a group meant to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the Jacksonville community, has met an unceremonious end.

City Council President Sam Newby terminated the city's police reform task force abruptly Wednesday, shocking the committee's chair, Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, and community activists who vowed to protest when City Council meets Tuesday.

The working group's vice-chair, Councilman Michael Boylan, resigned from the committee Monday, saying community activists were unwilling to back down from their demands for a Civilian Review Board to review use-of-force incidents by police. He disagreed with that idea, although he supported a board that would review Sheriff's Office policies.

In the memo ending Safer Together, Newby wrote that the workshop had completed "significant work" and hosted "constructive organized dialogues about the challenges successes, and opportunities available to us to make this a safer community."

But his decision to end the group's work raised questions about future efforts to address a chasm between police and some portions of the community. Advocates disagreed that the work is done.

Newby's action came just one day after state Rep. Angie Nixon and several community organizations wrote him an open letter asking for Safer Together to continue its work.

Michael Sampson is the executive director of the Jacksonville Community Action Committee, which organized and drafted the letter. The group plans a rally outside of City Council alongside the community groups that signed the initial letter.

"We are disappointed that the Council President Newby succumbed to pressure to kill the committee, however we're still hoping that he rethinks his actions and keeps the important work of the committee going and implements the recommendations of Safer Together," he said.

Those recommendations include the creation of a Civilian Review Board, mental health resources to respond to residents in crisis, and implicit bias training for officers.

"They need to create policy around these recommendations or else this will be another example in the history of Jacksonville of City Council and city leadership dropping the ball," Sampson said.

Even Newby's letter left confusion about his intent. Boylan and Morgan were both unaware that the memo was going to be released, and neither knew initially whether it meant the committee had been ended.

"The memo is unfortunate," Morgan said, "[Newby] said he was weighing his options after [Boylan] resigned, but I felt that he was leaning towards ending it."

When reached for comment Wednesday afternoon, Newby's office confirmed that the Safer Together workshops would no longer continue, saying it's work was "completed" despite the fact that Chair Morgan had already scheduled meetings for the workshop in November and December.

Newby himself was not available for questions.

In a July 12 memo, Newby wrote that Safer Together "meetings will be scheduled as frequently as needed" through June of 2022.