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Committee created in response to Black Lives Matter protests issues final report, recommendations

The report found significant gaps between police perceptions and community perspectives.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville City Council’s Safer Together committee was created following protests in the summer of 2020 to address tensions between the Black community and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

After five months of meetings, that committee issued its final report. Though its formal release isn’t scheduled until next Wednesday, the report highlights the committee’s priorities, and offers a snapshot of the tenor of the sometimes difficult conversations.

“Some of the discussions were a little tough,” says committee co-chair Joyce Morgan, who notes police and the community were examining deeply engrained – and differing – views of the world. “Your reality may not be their reality. [Police are] going out into a world every single day when they don't know whether or not they're going to make it back home. But guess what? So are citizens! Citizens are experiencing that same thing. What we wanted to do is show them is that we're more alike than different.”

One of the tasks of the committee was to look at the possibility of creating a Citizen’s Review Board for police shootings, and diverting some of the Sheriff’s budget to alternate enforcement approaches.

The report noted strong community support for a review board and staunch opposition from the police union. It suggested “revisiting” the issue and included guidelines for its creation, including autonomy and transparency.

The report also suggested adding at least one mental health responder in every zone to assist officers, and noted several times that additional officer training was needed.

But the report also found significant gaps between police perception and community reception noting, and said the agency’s defensiveness was “a theme throughout these sessions.”

“The frustration of the community was met by data, reports, and a defense of wrongdoings,” the report said. On the topic of additional training, “JSO explained it has extensive training in mental illness and crisis de-escalation and gave a general explanation that bias, retaliation, and racism were simply not problems the JSO experiences.”

“I think what surprised me is that they were a bit surprised,” Co-Chair Michael Boylan says. If JSO truly hopes to change community perceptions, he says, they will have to face uncomfortable facts.

“There is -- real or imagined -- a perception out there, that they are not very friendly folks, and they're not they're not public servants. And they are, and they need to understand that -- that they have a responsibility, a role, for all citizens to treat them that way.”

First Coast News reached out to JSO for comment and will update this story if they respond. Morgan praised JSO for participating and says new City Council President Sam Newby supports the committee’s continued work.

“These conversations. They hurt sometimes,” says Morgan. “They can be very hurtful. But again, if sometimes in a family, if you can't say things that the other one doesn't like, you can't get to the next level of a relationship. And that's what we're trying to do.”

Read the full report here.



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