The first day of Jacksonville City Council review of Mayor Lenny Curry‘s proposed budget was highlighted by a deep dive into the Sheriff’s budget: 35 percent of the general fund.
Among the highlights of the proposed budget: 100 more cops, which would bring force levels within a few dozen of the peak of 1,800 officers years back.
80 would be in the current budget, with the employee cap increased to 100.
The requested hires led to questions about what the JSO is doing with resources. Finance Committee members hammered Sheriff Mike Williams with questions about how the department is doing business, following up on a vow to do so last week at a town hall meeting.
“I think we have to separate the staffing conversation from the misconduct conversation,” Williams said after a series of tough questions from committee members.
“98 percent of officers in this department do the right thing every day.”
After robust discussion, some items were moved “below the line” even after 2 1/2 hours of discussion: position increase, budget amounts associated with position increase, outsourcing of health benefits, and personnel and professional development.
What that means: Finance wasn’t sold by the discussion.
Sheriff Mike Williams had met with most committee members already, yet there were questions and comments from council members.
Councilman Matt Schellenberg wanted to know how many training classes would be held to train new officers.
JSO trains 40 at a time, and also handles state-certification training in St. Johns County, decreasing the burden on training classes.
“At one point this summer, we had 1,000 people in the pipeline,” Williams said. “I don’t anticipate any problem finding people to fill positions.”
Williams also discussed pressures on law enforcement: stress, divorce, and alcoholism are among these, a “constant topic for conversation” for officers.
Williams also, in response to Schellenberg, said he’d be willing to move/replace the Police Memorial Building and the jail from prime real estate on Bay Street, which is being primed for redevelopment.
Williams also addressed shortfalls in medical staffers in the jail, which is driving the $12M uptick in health costs.
“We’ve had legal challenges, accreditation challenges with corrections health care,” Williams said, leading to “substandard care” in those facilities and a potential “tremendous liability” to the city.
Councilman Reggie Gaffney also posed the question of a shortfall in diverse hires.
Williams noted that 51 percent of those he hired were women and minorities since he took office in July 2015.
Gaffney also asked why Tyler Landreville, the officer who shot Vernell Bing last year, is back on patrol.
“The State Attorney makes the determination as to whether the shooting hit the criminal threshold or not,” Williams said. Then, an internal adminstrative review comes.
“Sometimes the officer will go back to work based on what the review is,” Williams said, noting that there is a two-track investigation.
Gaffney was satisfied with the response, though it’s uncertain how satisfied his constituents will be.
Councilwoman Lori Boyer likewise noted the meme of $12 million added to the budget for 100 new cops. The actual hard cost: $4.41M this year as they are phased in.
Next FY, the cost would be just below $9M.
Boyer also had questions about cops on the beat, patrolling. Williams asserted that, of officers recently hired, 60 percent or more went on patrol.
Staff shortfalls have affected detective work, including homicide investigations, Williams said. However, patrol positions are more visible.
“If I’m increasing your budget, I want to make sure you’re part of the solution,” Boyer said. “My concern is that sitting in this meeting, we have all these vacancies in patrol.”
Councilwoman Katrina Brown was next up.
“I’ve been out in the community … what’s your plan to create increased trust between officers and citizens?”
Williams asserted that more officers allow for more community policing.
“Part of that is to expose them to 99 percent of the people in the city, good people,” Williams said, as officers move from call to call and only encounter the criminal element.
“When somebody calls the police,” Williams said, “we have to respond.”
“I hear the same things you do — all I see is the officers driving by. That’s because they’re going from one call to the next,” Williams said.
This leads to “frustration” for officers, but the goal is to “build relationships down in the neighborhoods to decrease crime.”
Williams added that officers who run afoul of guidelines are being properly trained, but that they are guilty of “misconduct.”
“It’s not that an officer isn’t trained … it’s that they are running contrary to what’s been taught,” Williams said.
Brown wanted to know how often policies are reviewed; Williams asserted that it’s an ongoing process, in accordance with a “very high expectation” from the community.
Brown also noted that in other jurisdictions, officers like the aforementioned Tyler Landreville are off the street through an FDLE investigation that JSO refrains from.
“My concern with FDLE is … these decisions should be made in Jacksonville,” Williams said. “I have got to have a comfort level that if I need to say something to the community to decrease the comfort level that it’s our investigation.”
“We are the fact gatherers,” Williams said. “Decisions are made in the State Attorney’s Office.”
Brown noted that “the community is looking for answers.”
It’s unclear if Williams’ explanation provides them, even with State Attorney Melissa Nelson giving a “fresh look” at these investigations, which can often sprawl over months.
“The 100 new officers, that’s been a very tough decision for me,” Councilwoman Brown added. “The perception is they’ll be in a certain area targeting a certain group of people.”
Williams observed that by the time they are phased in fully, needs can change in zones, meaning that it’s uncertain where the new hires will go.
Right now, resources are so scattered that reinforcements come in from other counties.
“That 100 officers isn’t extra … the bread and butter things that officers do … the necessity of providing coverage where we need to,” Williams said,
Councilman Danny Becton, meanwhile, said “there’s a perception you’re trying to hire an army.”
Councilman Reggie Brown wanted to move more “seasoned officers” from headquarters to the street.
Williams noted that a massive departmental re-org is in planning.
“You look up one day and see things don’t make sense,” Williams said.
Today, Williams said, people aren’t getting those “cushy jobs in the building,” except for those injured, disabled, or otherwise restricted in duty.
Councilman Brown also brought up Tyler Landreville, urging that he not be on patrol.
Williams continued to take questions on deployment of resources, with Councilwoman Boyer trying to ensure the new cops are used for community policing, including parks.
“To just give you the positions and have no idea how they’re going to be used,” Boyer said, doesn’t sit well.
“We need to be able to provide adequate service to the community, because we aren’t doing that today,” Williams said, calling it a “staffing issue.”
Councilwoman Katrina Brown likewise wanted a “layout” of what new officers would be used to do.
“I don’t think the news media’s been on your side,” Brown said, regarding the reporting on JSO misdeeds. “The community’s got a lot of questions. We should at least be able to answer the basics.”
In happier news, Sheriff Williams did note that red light cameras will be out of Jacksonville by the end of the year.
Turns out they don’t prevent crashes after all.