Jacksonville police officers to get more diversity training

Sheriff's critics say it's not officers who need training, it's upper management

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The relationship between the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the city's black community has long been contentious and still is.

The Florida Times-Union recently published an investigative report showing that local African-Americans in low-income neighborhoods are issued more jaywalking tickets than other people elsewhere in the city.

Now, the sheriff said he is going to take steps to improve relations and train officers to better handle diversity throughout Jacksonville. 

Diversity training is not new, but Sheriff Mike Williams said his agency needs a refresher, and he wants his officers to get more training and, to go further, sit down with the community, as well.

But the sheriff's critics say it's not the officers who need training, it's upper management -- including the sheriff.

In the last several years, there have been a number of incidents in which people have questioned JSO and its response to situations in black neighborhoods. 

Ben Frazier of the Northside Coalition has always been outspoken about the Sheriff's Office and the way it reacts with minorities. He said the problem is not necessarily the cops on the street, but it comes from the top.

"The ones who need this training the most are the upper echelon, the brass at JSO. They need to stop dancing around the issue of race," Frazier said.

Williams told News4Jax on Thursday that he believes they are taking a positive step to bridge that issue. The plan is to undergo a bias training seminar, which will be led by a team from Bethune-Cookman University. They will first start with 150 JSO officers, and about the same number of people from the community. The sheriff said management will also participate.

"You need to understand the other person's perspective, at least be willing to listen to it, even if you don't agree," Williams said. "It's going to help continue a conversation that has to happen to make sure we have good relationships."

Frazier said there is a good reason for those strained relationships.

"Because we recognize in Jacksonville, Florida, that race plays an issue in policing," he said. "Look at the statistics when it comes to police shootings."

According to News4Jax records, in the last five years, there have been 45 incidents in which police shot someone. In those cases, 33 of the people shot were black and 12 were white. 

Thirty percent of Jacksonville's population is African-American, yet they make up 73 percent of those shot by police. The vast majority of those shot were armed. 

The sheriff said the program is to help both sides communicate and find out what is actually happening on the streets and why.

"I think it’s going to provide some good perspective, like what does this community think about law enforcement," Williams said. "And then from the law enforcement perspective, what do you do?"

The training will begin next week. The cost is about $23,500 and involves 52 hours of training. Williams said they will expand it to more officers and staff.

Frazier said the sheriff needs to meet with them and sit down and talk about the issue. 

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