After a summer of protests, with local activist groups calling for more accountability and transparency from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, one city councilman is introducing legislation to form a citizen review board.
The main priorities of the board would be to review completed internal JSO investigations and closed cases to determine if they are consistent with department policies and procedures, and report findings and recommendations to the City Council. Copies of the recommendations would be sent to the mayor and sheriff, according to the bill’s language.
“This will assist in accountability and transparency and communication of the sheriff's office to the community, as well as the City Council,” said Councilman Garrett Dennis, who is proposing the legislation.
Dennis’ bill would create a board of 15 members - one for each City Council district that council members would appoint, and one JSO liaison, although that person would be a non-voting member. At-large City Council members would not appoint members.
Each member could serve up to two, two-year terms.
Dennis, who has filed multiple bills asking for additional oversight for JSO, including an amendment to this year’s budget to withhold half of the proposed funding for the department, said he felt this was legislation he had to file himself.
“Quite frankly, I didn't see any other council member having the will to do it,” Dennis said. “This is something that has been talked about for years.”
In 2016, former City Councilwoman Katrina Brown proposed the idea of a citizen’s review board, but the idea faced hurdles and didn’t gain enough traction.
Dennis said the city’s Office of General Counsel proposed three ways to create a citizen review board, and he felt his legislation - which has the board work directly under the City Council rather than JSO - is the best way to move forward.
“I made sure that I crossed every ‘T’ and dotted every ‘I’, before I introduce the bill to make sure that it's legal, and it's appropriate to have a citizen review board,” Dennis said.
He said his legislation is similar to Tampa’s citizen review board, which now has city leaders looking for ways to give the board more authority.
“If it's done right, they'll not only be advocates for the community, but they'll also be advocates for JSO,” Dennis said.
In order to qualify and be a member of the citizen review board, a person must be at least 18 years old, a resident or owner of a business or non-for-profit organization in Jacksonville, and must agree to participate in a JSO ride-along for at least three hours within six months of becoming a member.
“If these board members do a ride-along, they see what those JSO officers see, and what they face day-in and day-out on their job,” Dennis said. “So it gives them a different perspective when they're reviewing the closed cases or the issues of the day.”
Dennis cited accountability, transparency, and communication, which has been a demand for many of the local activist groups in Northeast Florida, such as Ben Frazier’s Northside Coalition.
Frazier likes the legislation.
“The fact that they will not ask you to answer to, or be directed by the mayor or by the sheriff is a very significant point,” Frazier told WJCT News.
He said it would promote growth between JSO and the community, which he calls “sorely needed.”
But Frazier also has some concerns.
“Will the sheriff be hard-headed and turn a deaf ear to the CRB? Or will he listen to the voice of the people?” Frazier said. “Let's be clear - We don't need a dog with no bite. Simply put, that means that all parties involved should commit to following the letter and spirit of this proposed legislation.”
In June, Mayor Lenny Curry said he would be filing legislation to bring together constituents from the community, as well as local and state leaders to discuss racial injustices and inequities in Jacksonville.
However, that legislation still hasn’t come.
“I'm pretty sure when he said he was going to do it, his heart and mind was in the right place,” Dennis said. “But now it's time for action. And this bill is action.”
Dennis said he hopes to get City Council support for the legislation, although he believes some of them might not have true allegiances to their constituents.
“Look at how many of my colleagues were supported by the Fraternal Order of Police [FOP], and so do they represent their constituents and the citizens of Jacksonville, or are they beholden to the FOP?” Dennis said. “If that's the case, then they need to basically resign and give up their seat and have FOP be the council member.”
The bill is currently in its second reading, and will be heard by City Council committees in the next few weeks.
Sky Lebron can be reached at email@example.com, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.