‘Failure to communicate’: Questions raised at Safer Together meeting Friday about why sheriff wasn’t on hand

Councilman says citizens’ policy review board might be better for police investigations

Efforts to create a citizen review board (CRB) to investigate complaints against the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, including police-involved shootings, may be taking a detour.

City Councilman Michael Boylan says creation of a citizens’ policy review board may be the better way to go to advance goals of community policing.

The group Safer Together has held a series of workshops with JSO, and after those workshops, recommended creation of a CRB. The current review process starts with the State Attorney’s Office, and then an internal review by JSO.

It’s uncertain where a CRB would weigh in on a police-involved shooting, but Boylan says experts have made it clear that any findings by a CRB would have no force of law, and that only state and federal agencies can investigate criminal complaints against police officers.

Boylan’s recommendation also pointed to criticism of JSO’s response to community concerns. In a memo, Boylan says he fears the workshops with Safer Together were “just another exercise in tamping down any effort to bring meaningful change to the police force.”

Boylan said Sheriff Mike Williams did not engage in any of the discussions and that Undersheriff Pat Ivey professed no familiarity with the issues raised.

At a Safer Together group meeting Friday morning at City Hall, the public, mostly members of the Northside Coalition, expressed criticism of the Sheriff’s Office for not taking action toward change and specifically criticized Williams for not attending.

“The sheriff doesn’t want to meet with us. Why is it? What we have here is a failure to communicate,” Northside Coalition president Ben Frazier said.

The group also had harsh words for Mayor Lenny Curry and his staff for not participating.

“We need to see the mayor and the sheriff actually involved in this process,” Frazier said, adding that sending an “emissary” makes it appear engaging directly is beneath them.

News4Jax asked the Mayor’s Office for comment. We were told the issue is a council matter and the mayor was not invited to Friday’s meeting.

JSO Director Mike Bruno, who has been to every Safer Together meeting in the past year representing the sheriff’s office, said despite the sheriff’s absence from direct participation in the meetings he has been “very involved.” Bruno said he reports to Williams after every meeting and he believes the sheriff knows exactly what’s happening with the process.

“We continue to have the conversation. We are continuing to engage and continuing to talk about what’s best for the citizens of Jacksonville and moving forward, so that’s what we will continue to do,” Bruno said.

Boylan, who is a co-chairman of the Safer Together group, also has expressed concerns about how the sheriff is implementing the public input into policy. He met with the sheriff this week, and he hopes that some of the suggestions made by the group could eventually happen.

For example, Boylan gave the group advance notice Friday that grant money will soon be available to JSO to hire more mental health experts to work with officers at some scenes to bring about peaceful solutions to police standoffs.

The Safer Together group will be meeting again to discuss how citizens review boards are working in other city’s, like Orlando.

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.