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Dozens call on Jacksonville Council to reinstate Safer Together committee

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Claire Heddles
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WJCT News
Around two dozen protesters gather outside City Hall on Oct. 26, 2021, to protest the dissolution of the Safer Together task force.

About 40 people gathered in front of City Hall Tuesday calling on Jacksonville City Council President Sam Newby to reinstate the city's Safer Together task force.

Community organizer with the progressive Jacksonville Community Action Committee Christina Kittle said the conversation about police accountability is far from over.

"We took to the streets in the thousands last year," Kittle said. "Safer Together was supposed to be the compromise, so it's no surprise that we're out here protesting again."

Safer Together was convened last year by the late former Council president, Tommy Hazouri, with the goal of improving public safety following widespread protests against police brutality. The committee commissioned an in-depth report on community police relations in Jacksonville, and was set to continue meeting until next summer.

Newby abruptly shut the committee down last week, just days after Councilman Michael Boylan stepped down from his post as vice-chair.

"I cannot be party to an effort where individuals use the forum to make disparaging assertions and unwarranted accusations towards fellow citizens," Boylan wrote in a letter stepping down from the committee.

Ben Frazier, president of Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, said Tuesday his and other community members' comments were not disparaging but rather "facts" about "over-policing."

The Safer Together committee's report, released in August, included recommendations like increasing mental health resources, implicit bias training for officers and considering a civilian review board. With the process shut down, demonstrators said they’re afraid progress on those recommendations will be stopped in its tracks.

"The fact that a civilian review board, a completely advisory board that makes recommendations, that doesn't have powers, is looked to as an evil antidote," Michael Sampson with Jacksonville Community Action Committee said, "That's a shame."

For his part, Newby issued a short statement ending the committee's meetings last week that said, "This forum has provided individuals an opportunity to share the experiences which shaped their attitude regarding our policing community." He said the committee accomplished its goals.

Newby has not provided further explanation about why he ended the committee's meetings before the committee's recommendations were implemented. He was not made available to comment when WJCT News reached his office last week.

Claire joined WJCT as a reporter in August 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. During her time in East Tennessee, her coverage of the COVID pandemic earned a Public Media Journalists’ Association award for investigative reporting. You can reach Claire at (904) 250-0926 or on Twitter @ClaireHeddles.