The sponsor of a citizen review board proposal said to expect a rewritten version and Jacksonville City Council vote by the end of 2021. Councilman Garrett Dennis introduced the citizen review board ordinance almost a year ago, proposing a council-appointed board to review police misconduct claims after JSO’s internal investigations end.
But he has deferred discussion on the proposal for more than 10 months. Dennis said he wanted to wait for the findings of the city’s Safer Together workshops on public safety and policing. He’s now reworking the proposal based on the facilitators’ report released last month.
“I’m taking a deep dive in their findings, I’m meeting with some police groups and I’ll be moving the bill forward before the end of the year.” Dennis told WJCT News on Friday.
The Safer Together recommendations include further examination of how complaints against JSO are processed internally and continuing discussions on implementing a citizen review board.
“We recommend revisiting the citizen review board because it's apparent that trust and transparency are issues between the community and JSO,” facilitator Tammy Hodo told workshop attendees in mid-August.
Dennis’ original citizen review board proposal faced strong opposition from the local police union leader, Steve Zona with the Fraternal Order of Police. He said he believes JSO’s Internal Affairs Department police misconduct investigations process is sufficient.
“To prolong that process is something that we can't support,” Zona said during an April Safer Together workshop.
Jacksonville Sheriff candidate and current Chief of Special Events Mathew Nemeth echoed Zona’s sentiments on WJCT News 89.9’s First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross Wednesday.
“The sheriff is a constitutionally appointed officer,” Nemeth said. “What that means is simply that the electorate, whoever they put into that office, is charging them with responsibility of protecting them and handling the oversight that goes along with that protection.”
The Safer Together report lists independence from law enforcement as a key principle for civilian oversight. More than 130 police departments have community oversight bodies nationwide, according to the report. The Jacksonville City Council has taken up the idea at least once before, in 2016, but it didn’t pass. Councilman Dennis said he’s now meeting with police groups to try to win their support.
“This is not just a Garrett Dennis Citizen Review Board bill,” Dennis said. “It’s for everyone to get involved and make this board a board that’s positive for our city.”
According to the Safer Together report, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office reviewed more than 1,000 misconduct complaints in 2020 and 64% were sustained. The report also found JSO’s internal review team was more likely to categorize complaints from civilians as unfounded than complaints from in house.
Community advocate with Jacksonville Community Action Committee Maria Garcia has been pushing for police oversight for years. She said would prefer to see a police accountability board made up of civilian-elected members but she still supports Dennis’ proposal for a board of council-nominated members.
“We do support the civilian review board, for the time being, because any level of accountability versus what we have right now would be a positive,” Garcia said.
Dennis said he is proposing limiting service terms on the review board to just two years to increase the number of residents who can be involved in the process.
The next Safer Together workshop is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 13, following Council President Sam Newby’s move to extend the workshop discussions through July 2022. Safer Together research assistant Richard Distel said the next step in the workshops will be discussing how the city could best allocate funds to achieve the report’s recommendations.