The Donald Trump era has created unique challenges for law enforcement, including in Jacksonville, where local activists have pressed Sheriff Mike Williams for his commentary on President Trump’s jarring comments last week that seemed to encourage police brutality.
“When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough. I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice,’” said the leader of the Free World last week to police officers.
While some police departments in the area, such as Gainesville’s, were quick to condemn the comments, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has withheld comment … until Wednesday, when Florida Politics asked Sheriff Williams his thoughts on Trump’s commentary and worries from the activist left that they may end up targeted by the 100 new cops sought in the FY 17-18 budget.
“I try to stay away from getting involved, trying to justify anything the President says,” Williams noted.
“Talking about Jacksonville, and what appears to be a joke about police brutality, we take that very seriously,” Williams said.
“We’ve shown in the last two years, when it comes to police brutality and misconduct, that we take it very seriously and act swiftly and appropriately. That’s the lens through which we should look at Jacksonville — how we respond to stuff,” Williams added.
“I’d encourage people to look at what we do in Jacksonville and how we respond,” Williams continued, “instead of broadbrushing us with a joke from D.C.”
When asked what Trump’s comments did regarding community relations between the police and citizens, Williams pivoted back to his original point.
“I would encourage people to look at what we’ve done, look at our actions. Don’t look at the words of the President and apply them to JSO,” Williams said.
“Look at what we’ve done and what we do. When we see misconduct, we act swiftly and appropriately, especially when it comes to brutality or any inappropriate use of force, we don’t tolerate it and we drive that message down to the troops,” Williams said.
“That’s the benchmark I’d like to see us judged by,” Williams added, “not what the President says.”
When we asked Williams if he would advise the President to avoid such quips going forward, Williams laughed, saying “a lot of people try to give the President advice, and I’m not sure how much he takes at this point.”
“When it comes to local law enforcement,” Williams continued, “our relationship with the community is especially important. It cannot be us against them. We work hard to keep that from being the perception, and we will continue to work hard.”
“If you take your eye off the ball,” Williams continued, “you can lose ground there. There’s a natural inclination of many in the community to create an ‘us against them’ and we need to push back against that.”
“Things that don’t help us in that area don’t help us,” Williams added.
Regarding the 100 new police officers in the new budget, Williams asserted that the force additions will help with community policing, including the kind of relationship building that can foster trust.
“Everybody sees the videos of the guys playing basketball with kids … when there’s no time to do that,” Williams said, “that’s not going to happen.”
“What we have here in Jacksonville today,” Williams said, “a guy comes into work, turns on his laptop, and has three calls for service waiting.”
“It stays like that for twelve hours in many parts of the city. There’s always three people waiting for him to get there. For 11 ½ hours, he’s going call to call to call.”
What this means: that officer can’t stop in local businesses, or talk to people in neighborhoods, as he hurtles from crisis to crisis.
“We’re not going to be exceptionally staffed when we do this. We’re going to be appropriately staffed for a community our size,” Williams added, and that will allow time for the kinds of policing that schedules don’t allow now.
Officers are tracked every minute of the day, Williams said, and the goal is 45 percent of time being unassigned, which would allow officers to build those relationships.
“You can’t really do that in lieu of responding to somebody’s call,” the Sheriff added.