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Jacksonville sheriff still not meeting with community group on criminal justice reform

ICARE Prays at JSO
Raymon Troncoso
/
WJCT News
Pastor Bill Hoff leads members of ICARE in prayer at JSO headquarters. At left is the group's president, the Rev. Tan Moss.

Ten months after promising to discuss criminal justice reform, Sheriff Mike Williams still hasn't met with a faith-based community group that is pushing the idea, and it's not for lack of trying on their part.

Members of the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment — or ICARE — gathered at the headquarters for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office on Monday afternoon to speak to Williams or his representative, having met with Sheriff's Office leaders earlier that morning on a separate issue.

Despite knowing the faith group was coming, neither Williams nor his assistant were available, with an officer at the front desk having been instructed to receive the group and collect any documents the organization wanted to drop off.

"We have the utmost respect for the sheriff and his office," the Rev. Tan Moss, ICARE president, said Monday, praising Williams for pursuing crime reduction initiatives through the National Network for Safe Communities. "For all of the thousands of citizens that we represent, we want that same respect from him."

At the front desk, Moss was given the number for Williams' assistant, the same number he had been given on previous attempts to speak with the sheriff.

"I have probably called this number 10 times in the past five to six months," Moss said.

ICARE's desire to speak with Williams stems from a virtual summit in April, where the organization was pushing for Duval to adopt a civil citation program, similar to the one that already exists for juvenile offenders. Rather than have a misdemeanor go on someone's record, the civil citation program would provide guidelines for non-violent offenders to provide restitution through classes or community service.

"This program will change the lives of thousands and thousands of adults in our community, and it will save our community millions of dollars," Moss said, pointing to a similar program in Leon County.

ICARE says nearly 33,000 misdemeanor arrests were made in Duval in 2019 — 6,000 of them for suspended driver's licenses and expired tags, creating a criminal record that can follow a resident indefinitely and affect their opportunities.

Nelson and the State Attorney's Office gave measured support to the civil citation initiative, but stressed that Williams and his office would have to lead any development of a civil citation program for adults.

"Sheriff Williams agreed to have conversations with State Attorney Melissa Nelson in regards to this idea," a spokesman for JSO said in November. "Following several discussions, the idea has not proven feasible due to lack of infrastructure available within the agency at this time."

JSO's budget increased to over $500 million for the 2021-2022 Fiscal Year, making up over a third of the city's $1.4 billion Operating General Fund.

A request for comment sent to JSO on Monday evening had not been answered by Wednesday afternoon.

On the steps leading into JSO headquarters, Moss said he had resisted holding a public press conference because he hoped to amicably talk with the sheriff of his own accord, and that he wouldn't rely on Nelson or outside community and civil rights groups to set up a meeting.

"He should be able to fulfill his commitment that he has not only made to the ICARE organization, but to the people of Duval County, this county that he serves." Moss said.