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Citizen review board among recommendations of JSO review board

Sheriff's Strategic Initiative task force presents report Monday

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The results of 13-month-study into making the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office better were presented to Sheriff Mike Williams Monday morning at Friendship Fountain.

Some of the recommendations from the Sheriff's Strategic Initiative were as mundane as JSO having a better website. Some were as complex as tackling mental health and improving race relations in the community. One asked the JSO to create citizen review boards based on models used by other agencies across the country.

"I haven't seen (the report), so we're going to take some weeks to digest it," Williams said. "We will address each and every one of these recommendations."

Williams initiated the study shortly after he became sheriff in July 2015. 

Under the overall direction of Jacksonville University President Tim Cost, four committees focused on training, transparency, community engagement and resources. The committees were made up of 50 people from academia and the business community. They met off and on from October 2015 through May of this year, then recommendations were compiled into the report.

READ: Strategic Initiative Final Report

"This was not a cosmetic undertaking. They took the job very seriously," Cost said. We looked at law enforcement through a different lens than we ever did before."

For years, the Sheriff's Office has opposed the idea of a citizen's review board to look into police-involved shootings and other matters where officers are accused of using excessive force.

Wayne Young, director of government affairs for the JEA, headed the committee which made that recommendation.

"There are a multitude of recommendations from the transparency perspective, and that is one of them that will be up to Sheriff Williams to take a look to see what they can do and when they can do it," Young said.

Williams said he expects to provide an update on the recommendations to the community in February or March.

"The value that we get from this I think people underestimate because you can get in silos sometimes," Williams said. "We are very familiar with these issues, but we have our own perspective. And again, I think you can't put a price tag on the community ... perspective, and a lot of times, it's things we don't think about."

The fatal shooting of Vernell Bing Jr. by Jacksonville police officer in May prompted the latest calls for a citizen's review board. The shooting is under review by the FBI and the Bing family has sued the officer and the Sheriff's Office.

Bing's father told News4Jax that a review board was a step in the right direction, but a community activist who used to be a member of Jacksonville's Human Rights Commission was not sold on the idea.

"We have to be careful throwing that around like it's a cure-all, because it's not going to be a cure-all," Dennis Wade said. "I think the way you address these problems is with better communication between police and the community, which is not happening right now."

After Monday's presentation, Williams expressed gratitude for the civilians who spent time studying ways to improve the Sheriff's Office.

"We had hundreds of hours of work from people in this community that have full-time jobs," Williams said. "I can't thank you guys enough for the hard work and dedication you put into this."

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.