Group voices opposition to proposal for 100 new JSO officers

Sheriff points to rapid growth as primary reason for request

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A group of activists called Monday for the Jacksonville City Council to reject a budget proposal that would increase the police force, saying more officers won't mean more safety. 

Sheriff Mike Williams asked for $4.4 million to add 80 officers in the coming year and another 20 in the future. 

The City Council voted in Finance Committee to approve the 100 new Jacksonville sheriff's officers in the upcoming budget.

But community activists want the council to slam on the brakes. A group called the Jacksonville Community Action Committee gathered Monday afternoon outside City Hall, where it plans to return Tuesday. 

About two dozen people, at times chanting slogans about needing justice and accountability, called for the Jacksonville City Council to vote against the budget proposal that would add new JSO officers.

Demonstrators said they want accountability to citizens first. The group also said more officers are more trouble, not better safety.

"There's no correlation that's been drawn. It's inconclusive if you look at all the studies. Just frankly, you can Google it. It's not hidden information. Every city that has look to that for the answer, it's been inconclusive. And, actually, in a few cities there's even rises in police crimes," said Christina Kittle with the Jacksonville Community Action Committee. 

A woman whose son was killed in July in Jacksonville said she opposes more officers as well. Though officers did not kill Keegan Roberts, his mother said that she blames police for not arresting the killer. 

Michael Sampson with the Jacksonville Community Action Committee called for better training. But he also said accountability to the people of Jacksonville is more important to him, which is why he wants a citizen-led review board with sweeping power. 

"It is a citizen's review board with actual teeth. We should be able to hire and fire officers. They should have subpoena power to review evidence," Sampson said. "In the past, the mayor and other council persons have talked about a review board that has no teeth, that has no ability to actually hire and fire. And that's where it needs to be at. The people of Jacksonville need to have the power to have oversight over the department that their taxable dollars pay money into."

The sheriff has heard the concerns before. When Williams asked the City Council for the additional officers on Aug. 25, News4Jax asked about the calls for more training.

"We're looking at many different types of training: diversity training, implicit bias training. All the things you hear nationally, those are trends, and we pay attention to that," Williams said. "It could be a budget issue. So we're working through all those details," Williams said. 

Williams pointed to continuing rapid growth in northeast Florida as his primary reason for the request.

But the group outside City Hall said it wants more power in discipline and decisions, not more officers. 

The City Council will vote on the budget at the end of September. 

About the Author:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.