In a show of governmental unity Thursday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams, Fire Chief Kurtis Wilson and State Attorney Melissa Nelson had a wide-ranging discussion on public safety and the city’s newest budget.
The River City’s $1.27 billion budget includes $4.4 million to fund the training and hiring of 80 new police officers. The original request was for 100, but Sheriff Williams told councilmembers having all 100 ready for the force this year would be a stretch.
Strong opposition from segments of the city’s activist community in the end was not enough to put the kibosh on Curry’s self-stated public safety-focused “statement of priorities.” Groups like the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition and the Jacksonville Community Action Committee argued instead that funds should be funneled into more accountability for officers, mainly in the form of a citizens review board.
Activists want such a board to handle investigations into officer-involved shootings and other misconduct, however, a civilian body with such powers is forbidden by both Florida law and Jacksonville city ordinance, according to a memo from city General Counsel Jason Gabriel first obtained by The Florida Times-Union.
Councilwoman Katrina Brown asked Gabriel in 2016 whether council could unilaterally pass a law creating such a body. Gabriel replied saying that would not feasible because the Florida Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights “expressly reserves” certain duties to the sheriff, including subpoena power and initial review or assessment of police conduct that may result in officer discipline.
Curry again rebutted the calls for such a committee Thursday, saying the residents he’s spoken to have never told him they needed less officers on the street.
“You travel neighborhoods all over this city, from all different backgrounds and people want more police officers. They understand that we’re at dangerously low levels and they want them in their neighborhoods,” he said.
Sheriff Williams added he understands his office has to continue working on relationships with the communities it polices, but he believes there is enough accountability for officers already.
“Of course I would disagree that there’s no accountability and I think our track record in holding officers accountable shows that. If you want to have a conversation about police misconduct, we can do that, but police misconduct and staffing are two separate issues, really,” he said. “The issues that we brought to the mayor and brought to council were about a lack of staffing and a lack of being able to provide adequate police service in the community.”
The new police hires will bring the force up to 1,780 officers.
Curry also touched on the budget’s extra funds for Edwards Waters College, 42 new firefighters, new equipment for police and firefighters and a crime gun intelligence center, which will combine personnel from the Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the State Attorney’s Office.
Both Sheriff Williams and Fire Chief Wilson say they’ll continue to push for more hires and updated equipment in future budgets.
Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at