JSO holds 2nd of 6 town hall meetings on body cameras

Sheriff's Office asks for community's input before pilot program begins in June

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday night held the second of six town hall meetings to get the community's input on body cameras, which will soon be given to every officer.

Public involvement was the them of the second meeting at Florida State College at Jacksonville North Campus.

There wasn’t any opposition from the public to having officers wear body cameras while they are doing their jobs. But the people who showed up did have questions about policing the police. 

Among the questions asked were "What if an officer turns off his camera?" and how much will their concerns influence the Sheriff's Office body camera policy?

During the meeting, a video was played of a Chicago officer firing at a suspect who jumped out of a stolen vehicle that crashed into a police car. The Sheriff's Office said the footage was meant to show the community that transparency, accountability and training opportunities could come from a look inside the every day crimes that officers face.

"Body cameras are not the the magic pill to solve all the problems. But it's a way to help administrators in the community be more transparent," said JSO Director Tony Davis.

The Sheriff's Office plans to begin its pilot program in June, and will try out different types of cameras. The agency has already outlined a policy that officers will use, but officials are calling on the community to ask questions so they can create a better policy for all.

"Will that officer, himself or herself, be able to turn the camera off and on at random?" asked Artis Warthan.

"I'd like to know if officers will have an opportunity to review their footage prior to completing the reports? And why don't we have a civilian review board?" asked LJ Holloway.

"When should the film be shared with the community?" questioned Deedee Welsh.

Davis addressed those questions, saying that before a camera is turned on by an officer, a policy will be in place. Though officers will be able to manually activate and deactivate their cameras, they will know the rules, Davis said.

He said the public will have access to the video by submitting a public records request, however, in many cases, video is not available until an investigation is completed.

When the audience questioned the integrity of an officer who might choose to turn his or her camera off during an incident, Davis assured them that violating the use of footage would result in disciplinary action, and all officers would be held accountable because they would be assigned a camera.

"We plan to have each individual camera assigned to a specific officer. So he couldn't borrow your camera if you were off. He would have to get one that is assigned to him or get one that is in inventory and would have to be checked out," Davis said. 

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said community feedback is vital for the agency to receive grants and also show transparency.

"I happen to know they have some of the sharpest lieutenants in the Sheriff's Office that are actually researching and writing the policy, but still people want to be involved," Smith said. "I think some of their concerns will actually be implemented in the policy."

Once the pilot program is finished, JSO will complete information for a bid on the type of camera it chooses.

The agency has submitted for a federal grant for up to $1 million, and it's asking for the cameras to be made part of the general budget for the city.

Sheriff Mike Williams was not in attendance at Tuesday's meeting. 

The remaining four town hall meetings will be held:

  • 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 11, FSCJ South Campus, 11901 Beach Blvd., Wilson Center -- Lakeside Room
  • 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 24, 2017, FSCJ Kent Campus, 3939 Roosevelt Blvd., Large Auditorium -- F128
  • 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 11, 2017, FSCJ Downtown Campus, 101 W. State St., Large Auditorium -- A106B
  • 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 18, 2017, FSCJ Deerwood Campus, 9911 Old Baymeadows Road, Room B1204