JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The city's biggest leaders came together at City Hall Thursday to discuss the biggest public safety issues facing Jacksonville.
Mayor Lenny Curry, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, Jacksonville Fire and Rescue' Fire Chief Kurtis Wilson and State Attorney Melissa Nelson addressed the need to lower violence and increase police presence in the community. They also believe adding first responders will help build a better relationship with the community.
“[JSO was] at dangerously low levels when we got into office and now we are trying to get back as these folks get on the ground,” Curry said.
Curry's city budget was unanimously approved and involves:
- 100 new police officers being added
- $1 million toward a Crime Gun Intelligence Center
- $320,000 toward additional city park security guards
- 42 new firefighters and updated equipment
“We are keenly aware that we need to build those relationships and that’s what going to make us successful,” Williams said.
Over the last two years, there have been 20 officer-involved shootings in Jacksonville. The most controversial involved Vernell Bing Jr., a 22-year-old who was shot in the head after a high-speed car chase in 2016.
READ MORE: Suspect shot in head by police dies; Sheriff releases statement
“I came into office in January," Nelson said. "Since that time, we have been working with the investigators on the officer-involved shooting team to investigate that case."
The officer-involved shooting review team comprised of investigators and prosecutors is new for the State Attorney’s Office, and so is the release of all public documents and footage used in the investigation, like dash cam video and the re-creation of the crash between Bing and a patrol car.
When the State Attorney’s Office announced its decision about the shooting being justified they did so without a news conference.
READ MORE: State Attorney's Office: JSO officer who killed Vernell Bing was 'lawful and justified'
Nelson said the documents should suffice because they released everything available.
“We were thoughtful and very deliberate as is reflected in our extensive report and found that the officer who shot Vernell Bing was lawful and justified in that shooting," she said.
“I don’t know that there’s ever been a public to explain why a shooting has been justified," Williams said. "Melissa’s release of the documents, I mean it was an extensive report. I applaud her for that, I saw it when everyone else saw it."
Williams said her release of information is unprecedented and sets a new standard for the State Attorney’s Office going forward.
“Now that she’s ruled that it’s a justifiable shooting in terms of did the officer break the law, now we look to see from a police standpoint did he violate any policies and that’s ongoing," Williams said.
First Coast News crime analyst Mark Baughman said even if a suspect is trying to escape, deadly force can be used if the suspect is believed to be armed, which in Bing’s case he was not. His attorney is still pursuing a felony wrongful death lawsuit.
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