Building bonds: Jacksonville officer taking steps to improve police-community relations

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Some Black Americans and some white Americans have differing views on police in their communities, as tensions still run high over high-profile deaths involving officers.

Jury selection for Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, starts Monday. He’s one of the officers involved in George Floyd’s death.

Next week, specifically March 13, marks one year since Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville police officers.

According to a USA Today/Ipsos poll, 77% of white people in America trust police, while only 42% of Black people trust police. The poll also found 75% of Black people, but only 42% of white people express trust in Black Lives Matter.

Here in Jacksonville, along Justina Road in Arlington, crime is a concern for some.

“We need to take a step forward to make some changes, providing resources for these kids,” said Cheryl Williams, who lives in the area.

Williams feels her community can be put by the wayside at times, or labeled as bad.

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Assistant Chief Lakesha Burton is trying to improve relationships between police and the community -- one person at a time.

“Last year we had an influx of violent crime for a lot of different reasons. Obviously we have the COVID, a lot of the civil unrest,” Burton said.

She understands there’s a divide. She and her officers see it daily -- not everyone backs the blue. And that’s why many officers were getting out of their cruisers and walking the streets Friday, speaking with people who have similar viewpoints and similar upbringings.

“It does help (bridge the gap) because first of all, they’re talking to someone who looks like them, who have had some of the life experiences, and they trust me. They trust us. And they listen to us,” Burton said.

It’s no magic pill, she says, and there are still problems. But it appears to be making a difference.

“This helps,” said Mike Smith, who lives in Arlington. “To let everyone know that everything is OK. That’s the way I see it.”

Burton believes this can help relationships in every neighborhood.

“We are walking into stores and asking people, hey, do you have an opportunity to invite the police to your church or to your neighborhood? We just want to come and have these real-life conversations, to hear you out.” Burton said.

Next week is spring break for the children in the area, and not all of them have access to meals. Therefore, Burton and community leaders will be feeding the community Monday through Friday at Justina Road Elementary Park.

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