State Attorney Melissa Nelson’s Office will be the focal point for the release of body camera footage involving police shootings at the local level, according to Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams.
Williams said at a Monday morning City Council committee hearing that when a police shooting goes to the State Attorney’s office, the body camera footage from that case is confidential until the investigation is concluded. At that point, Nelson can release the footage for public eyes.
The first body camera footage from a police shooting from last year will be released later this week, according to Williams.
The case of Jamee Johnson, the 22-year-old FAMU student who was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop last year, is still under review by the State Attorney’s Office.
The sheriff’s statements at the committee hearing confirm what Nelson announced last week.
Meanwhile, another investigation has been launched by JSO to determine if the officer violated policy. Williams said body camera footage can’t be released from that case until they’ve come to a decision.
“We made the determination that as soon as the state is done, they have the evidence, which is the body camera footage, she is not bound by that same law that I am because she's not conducting an internal review on the officer I am, and so she can release the body camera footage,” Williams said.
Williams said there’s been challenges with inserting new technology with older policy.
“We've crammed it into the middle of some state statutes that were written when nobody even knew this technology existed,” Williams said.
Asked by Councilman Reggie Gaffney what a timeframe would look like for releasing the footage, Williams once again pointed to the State Attorney’s Office.
“They're in the process now of evaluating multiple cases to see how long they took, what can they do internally, in terms of their internal processes over there to potentially expedite some of these things,” Williams said.
A demand from the Jacksonville Community Action Committee and several other organizations and groups that have peacefully protested for change is a Citizen’s Review Board to provide oversight on police investigations into officer-involved shootings and police brutality.
Williams didn’t say he was against the idea, but mentioned that it would require the department to “completely undo the whole system”.
He said all information during a JSO internal review is confidential, so citizens can’t view the decisions made until after the case is closed and evidence is public information.
“You’re creating another layer inside the criminal justice system,” Williams said.
Councilman Garrett Dennis brought up a 2016 memo from the Office of General Counsel on the potential creation of the Citizen’s Review Board. Williams said he’s seen the document before, but is still unsure how that would work alongside internal investigations.
Instead, he pointed to JSO’s Sheriff’s Watch, a program throughout the city split up into districts where residents interact with local law enforcement.
“You've got those neighborhood meetings all around the city, where we meet and talk about issues in their community,” Williams said.
Williams also said he believes JSO does a “really good job” of making sure the officers they’ve hired while he’s been in office have undergone extensive background checks, and are representing the community they serve.
“There's never been a more diverse workforce at JSO, ever,” Williams said. “There's never been a more diverse leadership staff, ever.”
As there have been national calls to defund police departments, Williams made it clear he is completely against the proposal.
“Defunding of law enforcement agencies is probably the worst policy I could ever imagine,” Williams said. “I mean, if you talk about really wanting to disproportionately impact communities of color, that is exactly one way to do it.”
Williams said 85% of JSO’s budget goes to salary and benefits, with other portions of the cash going to running the correctional facilities, meaning there isn’t much room to trim from the budget before cutting from the workforce.
“I have less police officers in this agency than I did 10 years ago...I would agree there’s things that need to be addressed in terms of funding different types of programs or services in the community, but I don’t think that needs to come from, or at the expense of, law enforcement,” Williams said.
The sheriff also said there’s been a struggle to recruit people to join law enforcement, partially due to pay. He said frustration and anger toward law enforcement is making that recruiting process even more difficult.
On Tuesday, more JSO personnel will speak to the City Council’s Rules committee on training and hiring police officers for JSO.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.