For citizen review board in Jacksonville, a charter change is necessary

police car lights

Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown renewed her push for citizen review boards for police shootings on Friday morning.

It’s a heavy lift, as charter precludes such a board; however, a sheriff’s office reform task force last month suggested that such a mechanism may be a worthwhile reform, even as the police union opposed it.

Brown has prioritized a citizens’ review board during her time on the city council, with a public notice meeting in June and a request to the office of general counsel asking for ways forward.

However, there are a number of legal impediments to affirmative council action in this direction. Among them: state legal protections for officers, via the law enforcement officer’s bill of rights.

A potential way forward exists, however; a council bill to authorize a referendum for charter change might be an option, however unlikely.

Also possible but unlikely: action from the state legislature.

****

In Friday’s fractious public notice meeting, enthusiasm for anything immediate regarding a CRB was tempered by a memo from the office of general counsel, which noted that a CRB cannot “perform certain duties expressly reserved to the Sheriff by law.”

Those duties include discipline, as the sheriff is an elected constitutional officer.

As well, there is a statutory conflict, regarding the confidentiality of an internal investigation.

By ordinance, the council cannot usurp the sheriff’s disciplinary duties, and “operate in conflict” with statute.

Rev. R.L. Gundy, who was at the June meeting, noted that at that point the potential of an appointed chief of police was discussed.

Representatives of the office of general counsel noted that would require an act of the state legislature or a referendum.

Equally notable: whether Republican or Democrat, virtually all Duval Delegation members received campaign support from the Fraternal Order of Police, which has consistently opposed a CRB.

The OGC memo pointed out some “feasible options,” which include a “disciplinary-recommendation” model, a “legislative-investigative audit model,” and an “executive-investigative audit model.”

Of those models, the OGC pointed out that any body created cannot “get in front of an investigation of officer performance that might lead to officer discipline.”

In other words, while review and assessment could happen, statutory protections preclude enforcement power, due to the city charter.

The sheriff could establish a body to work in an advisory manner.

However, it has not been determined whether that could be done without collective bargaining, a notable point as the police union and the city of Jacksonville are locked in tense labor/management negotiations, with the Fraternal Order of Police already strenuously arguing for its interests in terms of pension and salary.

There is no indication that city negotiators want to open up another front of conflict, in favor of citizens’ review boards, in what looks to be a long and fractious war in the trenches.

OGC representatives pointed out the potentially protracted nature of these investigations, which can take years.

There is a case pending review in the Florida Supreme Court, with a February 2017 oral argument, on CRBs. The resolution of that could determine next steps, the OGC reps pointed out.

One activist on hand from the Black Commission denoted the lack of transparency accorded by a strong union, and one noted that any complaint should go to an independent arbitration process.

OGC reps noted that was beyond the scope of what the legal review covered.

Activist Diallo Sekou, whose The Kemetic Empire group has pushed for reforms such as body cameras, dash cameras, CRBs, and equity in hiring, pressed for more clarity on the memo.

The OGC reiterated its contention that the council had no power to override state statute.

Gundy wanted to know “why can’t we do a referendum” on this matter, contending the original intent of consolidated government was for an appointed police chief.

Gundy, a frequent critic of abuses of state power as manifested by law enforcement overreach, was told that there could be a charter change to effect these changes.

Councilwoman Brown said that “if we get ten votes, we can put it on the ballot.”

And Councilman Reggie Brown seconded that motion, “so at least we can start the discussion … so you know where your elected body stands.”

Consolidation, said Councilman Brown, blurred traditional lines, because the entire county is encompassed in the city limits.

“If we get this out, it won’t impact Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, and Jacksonville Beach,” Councilman Brown said, referring to the unique nature of consolidation, which allowed autonomy for the beaches communities in exchange for their support in the consolidation push.

“I believe that we do need to look at the people having more power than any particular entity of our city,” the councilman added, suggesting a “straw ballot” to gauge the mood of the city on this matter.

The OGC rep pointed out that the election of a sheriff does confer power on the people that wouldn’t necessarily be the case otherwise.

The mayor may appoint someone that citizens may not vote for, it was pointed out.

Activist Ben Frazier urged council members to “stay focused” on the issue of “civilian oversight,” noting that the sheriff’s task force has advocated a review board.

Frazier contends that a “legislative-investigative audit model” is the right way forward, and Councilman Brown seemed to concur, yet noting that JSO’s adherence is conditional on whether it wants to follow through.

As FOP head Steve Zona looked on impassively, Frazier wanted to know if the FOP could “throw this into collective bargaining too.”

The OGC noted that FOP may “engage” with council on such a discussion.

Zona noted that the FOP opposes CRBs as an “investigative body,” as they have the potential to be driven by “opinions” and feelings.

“We welcome one after the process,” Zona added, but “we’re not open to a civilian review board as an investigative body.”

That didn’t mollify Sekou, who does want it as an investigative body.

“If a review board does not have investigative powers,” Sekou said, “it’s almost moot. It’s almost a waste of time.”

A representative from the Black Commission had similar concerns, wanting a parallel citizen review board investigation, but Councilwoman Brown noted that there is no authority for that under statute.

“I can tell you this. Back in June and July, several organizations came to council … at the time, we were talking about body cameras and dash cams. The conversation was that they weren’t going to take place,” Brown said, noting there has been movement on these matters.

“It starts with conversation. Everything that people said we couldn’t do, we were able to get it done,” Councilwoman Brown added.

“When you talk about changing the law, it starts with the state level,” the councilwoman added.

Given resistance from the union, and statutory prohibition, those changes will be tortuous, with the pace bound to frustrate activists.

“Here we are, six months after [the police killing of] Vernell Bing, Jr., and no results,” Gundy said, with no words from the mayor, the sheriff, or the state attorney.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski



#FlaPol

Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704