Faith community leaders experience split-second scenarios faced by Jacksonville police

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Local leaders from the faith community across the Jacksonville area traded in their pulpits for pistols Monday afternoon, getting a hands-on lesson from police about split-second decisions they’re faced with.

It was a shoot, don’t shoot training session -- part of a new partnership the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is forging with area leaders to help keep communities safe.

The Rev. Markel Hutchins, an Atlanta based pastor, is the national lead organizer of the OneCOP initiative, which stands for “one congregation one precinct.”

In a scenario, Hutchins played the role of an officer, carrying a gun and must decide what action to take when he ultimately chooses to handcuff a suspect during the training session at the FSCJ North Campus.

“It’s an eye-opening experience,” Hutchins said. “We have to understand what it is they go through. How is it they do their job so that we can then both understand as well as potentially hold them accountable when something goes wrong.”

Rabbi Avi Feigenbaum of Etz Chaim Synagogue said it was one of the tensest moments of his life, making him realize it’s impossible to know exactly what’s going on around an officer.

“I’ve been in many different situations, and all of a sudden the curtain comes up and you have these: one scenario I had these two people in my face and they were arguing with each other. I didn’t even realize -- I was so focused on the noise and what they were saying -- I didn’t realize there was another guy on the side that was actually shooting at me,” Feigenbaum said. “We just see one picture, one snippet, one shot of one part of it, and everything that went around, everything else that happened really puts it into perspective of why they might do what they do.”

Law enforcement officials throughout the U.S. have joined this effort in cities nationwide, including Jacksonville.

“Here’s how we see a problem. How do you see it? You know, maybe we can improve the response in having that conversation,” explained Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams.

The unified goal: Building stronger bonds that can only help keep you safe through understanding.

“I have said many times that you can’t build a relationship during a crisis, what you have got to do is try to build those relationships prior to an event like that happening,” Williams said.

“I have a lot of my friends that are in the international police force, and I have eaten lunch with them and talked to them. But being there and seeing and being exposed is completely different,” said Rev. Roberto Sanchez with the Universidad Cristiana Logos in Jacksonville.

“Today, it gave me a different perspective of what they go through, when they go out into our communities,” said Rev. Anna Figueiro with the Mandarin Lutheran Church.

It was just one exercise designed to help strengthen police-community relationships. A luncheon with the same groups is planned for Tuesday to discuss the outcome of the training exercise.

About the Authors:

Joy Purdy co-anchors the 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. newscasts with Tarik Minor and the 11 p.m. weeknight newscasts with Kent Justice.

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.