JSO Community Task Forces Recommend Body Cameras, More Officers, Better Pay

Nov 21, 2016

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office got some guidance Monday for strengthening its relationship and with citizens and increasing transparency.

Four community task forces that focused on transparency, resources, training and community engagement issued their recommendations after a year of research.


Jacksonville University President Tim Cost, who headed up the task force committees and picked their chairs, presented the report to Sheriff Mike Williams in the form of a 100-page bound report Monday at Friendship Fountain.

Williams said he’ll need several weeks to digest it.

“We will address each and every recommendation in this report, and we will check back with the community,” Williams said.

He said around March he’ll have a plan for implementing some of them.

The four task force committees were headed by business and community leaders. Fifty citizens, ranging from nonprofit workers to community organizers, served on them.

Florida Blue Foundation VP Susan Towler led the Community Engagement committee. She said officers should aim to give every Duval citizen at least one positive interaction with JSO every year.

The goal is “having constant communication, police presence in communities when there's not a situation, more to get to know the communities and to really understand where they’re coming from and demonstrate mutual respect,” she said.

Other recommendations include JSO’s partnering with nonprofits that specialize in helping police gain community trust and having officers wear body cameras. That one is already in the process of being implemented, with a pilot program set to be launched in the spring.

Williams created the task forces a year ago to tackle concerns he heard during his campaign for sheriff.

The committees reviewed JSO practices, held public meetings, consulted with experts,  conducted independent research and examined best practices.

Read their full report here

Community Engagement

Chair: Susan Towler, Florida Blue Foundation Vice President

The community engagement committee had 22 members, the largest number of all the task forces.

The committee recommends JSO use a vision statement to guide it: “Every Duval County citizen will have at least one positive interaction a year with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in order to exceed the community’s expectation of their police agency.”

The rest of the committee’s recommendations are aimed at helping JSO make the vision statement a reality by strengthening existing programs, improving self evaluation and continuing to seek citizen input.

For instance, to build trust and respect for and with African-American men and boys, the task force recommends JSO meet twice a year with mentor programs that serve African-American males. The force says young people should be referred to those programs frequently, and the programs should be supported financially.

The task force also notes language is important, and recommends JSO veer away from using “at-risk” to describe programs for black teens.

The report also says curfew enforcement should focus on preventing young men from becoming victims of violence, not labeling them suspects of truancy or curfew breaking.

When it comes to behavioral health, the committee recommends mental health assessments should be woven into the response to any disturbance call, from the moment 911 is called through follow-up actions, including arrests.

The recommendations also say JSO should continue with community events like neighborhood walks and have officers participate and lead events like neighborhood clean-ups.

Finally, the committee found measurement and evaluation of all JSO programs is critically needed. The report says multiple programs and activities lack a clear overall objective and evidence they’re benefiting the community.

Transparency

Chair: Wayne Young, JEA Director of Government Affairs

Some of the bigger issues the transparency committee identified include body cameras, JSO policies, benefits and citizen engagement.

The committee says body cameras should start being worn by officers as soon as possible. Williams said Monday a body camera pilot program is on track to begin in the spring.

When it comes to citizen engagement, the committee says JSO should meet with a national nonprofit that helps police forces build community trust. It’s called the National Association of Civilian Oversight for Law Enforcement.  

The committee also says JSO should establish an advisory committee to review citizen-engagement models of monitoring police.

The transparency team also examined the area of public records. Now, when someone requests a record, JSO can charge them for fulfilling it when the records officer works 30 minutes or more. The committee recommends lowering that charge-for-records minimum to 20 minutes of work.

It also says JSO employees should be notified when their personnel file or disciplinary record  has been requested.

Resources

Chair: Jim Casey, Stein Mart Vice President of Asset Protection

The resources committee says JSO should consider requesting a “reasonable” property tax increase to support its functions. It also says the department should increase the number of officers as well as the pay and benefits of currently employed officers. The report says this will ensure they have a competitive and reliable pension plan moving forward.

The task force spoke with Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police President Steve Amoa, who said a big problem is police in other Florida departments attain their top pay faster than JSO officers, and that top pay is higher.

The committee also looked into the average number of officers per 1,000 residents, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics, and found JSO is about 550 officers short.

Training

Chair: Dan Bean, Managing Partner at Holland & Knight

The training committee focused on three key areas of concern: reducing officer injuries and fatalities, adapting to current and future domestic and foreign law-enforcements threats, and evaluating the current JSO training program.

In the area of officer safety, the committee found JSO has not had an officer killed in the line of duty since 2008. The committee recommends having pairs of officers in every vehicle to assist in managing difficult situations but acknowledges that recommendation isn’t attainable because of budget constraints.

The task force also finds JSO has been able to stay ahead of domestic and foreign law enforcement threats, but it recommends a slight increase in personnel to create a Strategic Oversight Unit, which would specialize in adapting to changing threats.

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at@lindskilbride.