FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – A Flagler County deputy who left the sheriff's office in May to concentrate on finishing his college degree was inspired to return to the agency after an NAACP Town Hall meeting that focused on race relations between law enforcement and the community, the sheriff's office announced Monday.
Deputy Jason Williams, who left the agency on May 2 after more than two years as a road deputy, is now a reserve deputy with the Flagler County Sheriff's Office.
Williams, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, said his decision to leave the sheriff's office changed because of the Flagler NAACP Town Hall meeting he attended on July 12 at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Palm Coast.
Williams listened carefully to comments and questions about community policing and outreach, racial profiling and recruiting African-American police officers.
“I was bothered by some of the things I heard at the meeting,” he said.
People had legitimate concerns and the FCSO answered them well, he said, but he was bothered by statements that the FCSO doesn’t actively recruit minorities and women.
“I took it personally because I have been recruiting and we don’t have a plethora of minority candidates in this area,” Williams said.
Williams said very few minority or female applicants even participate in police job fairs. He’s spoken to African-American criminal justice students at Bethune-Cookman University at least twice, he said.
“We have to travel. It’s about being diverse,” he said. “We should recruit the best candidates, no matter what color they are.”
After the NAACP meeting, Williams did some soul-searching and decided he wanted to return to his job at the FCSO, he said.
“I don’t feel I did all I could do here. Right now, the public’s perception of law enforcement is shattered. We need to do better,” Williams said.
Communities see law enforcement officers in one light, while “we see ourselves as another way. We have to meet halfway,” he said.
Williams said people locally don’t seem to understand “community policing,” which Sheriff James L. Manfre emphasizes is vital to ease the country’s tensions with law enforcement.
The idea is to build relationships based on mutual respect with individuals in Flagler County to foster cooperation between residents and police.
In recent weeks, the sheriff has spoken in area churches and with civic groups to improve communication.
“We have to acknowledge we have issues before we can solve them. The only solution is by continuing to have these conversations,” Manfre said.
Williams said he wouldn’t be back at the Sheriff’s Office if he hadn’t attended the NAACP meeting.
He said he believes law enforcement officers need to “get out in the community before something really bad happens. There’s a lot we can do to increase that (understanding of community policing),” he said. “We need to take extra time to be present and visible.”