JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – News4Jax is getting answers to questions raised by nearly two dozen African American pastors during a news conference Monday, including questions about the number of blacks in ranking positions within the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
The pastors are making specific requests to the state attorney and city officials, as well, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which, according to pastors, could have hypothetically happened in Jacksonville.
“Jacksonville is far from perfect and is a spark away from being in the national spotlight," said Pastor Mark Griffin, with Wayman Ministries.
Griffin and a group of local Jacksonville pastors want more than just access to body camera video in incidents involving a Jacksonville police officer. They are calling for change within the structure of the Sheriff’s Office.
“We want JSO to conduct and review and publish a report on the number and percentage of black police officers by position and rank in comparison to the percentage of black residents in Duval County," Griffin said.
News4Jax asked a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson about this request and was told a specific report like this was not readily available. But the spokesperson said that information could be gained through a public record request, which News4Jax submitted Tuesday.
Pastors also called for State Attorney Melissa Nelson to recuse herself from any investigation in which the defendant is a police officer, arguing that the close working relationship between the State Attorneys Office and the Sheriff’s Office has resulted in a “natural conflict of interest.” Nelson told News4Jax on Tuesday that she is not considering recusing herself from police-involved shootings.
Pastors also requested the Sheriff’s Office “implement programs to increase the number of black police officers, especially in the higher ranks of leadership.”
Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Marlo Zarka said that’s something the agency is already doing.
“Under Sheriff Mike Williams, JSO has the most diverse leadership with race and females than ever before. Since Williams took over in 2015, hiring practices have increased for veterans and graduates of historically black colleges and universities," Zarka said.
Zarka added: “48% of Sheriff Williams’ hires have been of minorities and women, and 28% of those are people of color.”
Pastors also requested JSO perform an independent review of police officers’ records with a focus on officers with multiple serious offenses, “such an officer, if not properly counseled and disciplined, who could be the next bad apple.”
Zarka told News4Jax a data-driven early detection system exists, currently watching for officers who might need intervention, based on the frequency of complaints against them, use of force incidents, work abscesses and other metrics.
Pastors also called for more mental health services for police officers, a greater diversity in judges and addressing educational disparities, as well as eliminating food deserts, which is something the City Council is trying to address by proposing a gas tax.