Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis is lashing out at fellow council members Wednesday after the Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety committee this week declined to discuss his proposal to create a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Citizens’ Review Board to review closed cases.
Dennis introduced and motioned the bill for discussion at Monday’s Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety committee, but none of the other five City Council members on the committee supported the motion, instead choosing to defer it.
In an interview with WJCT News, Dennis claimed that Steve Zona, president of Jacksonville’s Fraternal Order of Police, lobbied council members not to take up the bill.
“If this committee, with those members, want to be so close-minded, and they take all their cues from a union boss [like] Steve Zona, and from the mayor, they basically just need to turn over their elected office to the union boss,” Dennis said.
WJCT News reached out to Zona, the Fraternal Order of Police, and JSO via email, text, and telephone, but has not heard back by the time of this story’s publication. If responses are received, this story will be updated.
Councilman Rory Diamond, who is on the Neighborhoods Committee and declined to open the bill up for discussion, said he doesn’t believe the citizens’ review board will ever gain traction in Jacksonville.
“It’s just another attack on our police,” Diamond told WJCT News Wednesday. “I mean, people from the left and the right have all condemned these things. They sound good, but at the end of the day, they just add uncertainty, they add bureaucracy, and they undermine the morale of our police officers.”
Following the bill’s deferral on Monday, Diamond tweeted about the legislation:
Today, we beat back another attack on our police in Jacksonville. An attempt was made to insert an anti-police bureaucracy “Citizen Review Board” that has been rejected by people on the right and the left as totally ineffectual and demoralizing for officers. #BackTheBlue
— Rory Diamond (@RoryDiamond) October 19, 2020
Diamond said he does want to see more accountability and community policing, but an oversight committee is not the way to go about it.
“We need to look at the various causes here in Jacksonville,” Diamond said. “I love the Kids Hope Alliance working to prevent crime before it even starts. But also, how do we make sure that people who have been involved in the justice system can get employment and get welcomed back into society? We need to address the issue of gangs and drugs. There's lots of different ways to go, but undermining the morale of the police department isn't one of them.”
“He's a small-minded hack,” Dennis said. “Councilman Diamond is a very, very weak individual, a weak legislator. He has cowered down to every special interest since we've been on Council. He’s not a council member that I respect at all.”
Dennis’ bill would create a 15-person committee, with one JSO liaison and 14 others appointed by each member of the 14 City Council districts. At-large council members would not appoint a citizen to the board.
The main task of the board would be to evaluate closed JSO cases and bring policy recommendations to the City Council.
Dennis said his hope is the committee would advocate for both the community and JSO.
“It’s not an adversary board,” Dennis said. “It's a board to have second eyes, third eyes, fourth eyes on a closed investigation to foster accountability, transparency and communication, and I can't see why anyone will be against it. It's so disheartening that the head of the police union is fighting so hard [not] to have that. It's just not right. People see our city, our city government, as corrupt as corrupt can be.”
Other large Florida cities, such as Miami, Tampa, and Orlando, all have some form of citizens’ review board for their police departments.
Broward County and Miami-Dade County sheriff’s offices recently created their own citizen-led boards as well.
Because the bill was deferred, the soonest it can be discussed again is in two weeks.
This isn’t the first time a citizens’ review board has been discussed in Jacksonville. In 2016, former City Councilwoman Katrina Brown tried to bring up a similar idea, but faced backlash from local law enforcement officials, and failed to gain any traction from other council members.
The idea returned to the spotlight this summer, when thousands of protesters marched in Downtown Jacksonville against police brutality and in support of law enforcement accountability.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.