People Power – Bring It!

Officials tackle social justice when there’s community will behind it. You are a part of that power. Based on our Listening and Research, this year we’ll ask city leaders for Action on:

  • Adult Civil Citations
  • Group Violence Intervention (monitoring)
  • Resilience to Climate Change
  • Mental Health (on hold)

To find out what we’ve learned, read the summaries below. Then join as for the Nehemiah Assembly at 6:45 p.m. March 28.

Attend virtually—click here to find out how. Or join us in the BBUUC sanctuary, where members from our church will be holding an ICARE Zoom viewing.

Adult Civil Citations: Mass Incarceration Doesn’t Make Us Safer

Mass incarceration happens when too many people are jailed for minor offenses, like the failure to pay a fee or fine. These laws are disproportionately enforced against people of color.  For example, in Jacksonville a 2017 Times-Union investigation showed if you lived in a zip code where people are predominantly black, you were two to five times more likely to be cited for jaywalking than if you lived in a zip code where people are predominantly white.

ICARE spent years working to protect youths from unnecessary arrests for a minor nonviolent crime, and today over 90% are held accountable with a civil citation and put into a diversion program instead. It’s given our young people a chance to get their lives back on track and saved our community $2.2 million. Now, we’re looking to produce the same kind of outcome for adults.

ICARE has learned over two-thirds of arrests each year in Jacksonville are for misdemeanors. More than half of these are for minor issues related to driver’s licenses, vehicle tags, auto insurance, reckless driving, drug possession, petty theft, trespassing, disorderly conduct or loitering. These offenses are not good behaviors, but they don’t actually threaten public safety. Surely they can be resolved without arresting someone.

A civil citation would hold an adult accountable with community service, restitution and other consequences, without saddling them with a lifelong criminal record. Also, these arrests are a costly burden for taxpayers. They soak up valuable time that police officers could be using to solve serious crimes.

In 2018 the Florida Legislature passed a law that allows communities to create adult civil citation programs. Last year at the urging of ICARE, Jacksonville’s Sheriff and State Attorney both agreed to do so. So far, they have not followed through.

Group Violence Intervention: There are places in Jacksonville where gunshots are normal

An elderly Jacksonville couple told us the story of how they heard gunshots in their neighborhood and later found some of the bullets had pierced their living room windows. Imagine how frightening it must feel to be in danger, simply living in your own home.

Jacksonville is known as the murder capital of Florida. But research shows half of violent crimes are committed by the same groups of people, and they are merely 0.6% of the population. Group Violence Intervention targets these people before they commit more crimes, promising social services for those who leave the lifestyle, and police enforcement for those who don’t.

Jacksonville began a GVI program in 2017, but its implementation languished during COVID.

Sheriff Mike Williams promised to bring its consultant, the National Network of Safe Communities (NNSC), back to Jacksonville to assess its GVI program and give guidance. ICARE has learned the sheriff has negotiating with the NNSC, and we are monitoring to make sure he follows through with a contract.

Resilience to Climate Change: A Weak Hurricane Could Drown Jacksonville

When Irma — as a tropical storm — flooded Jacksonville in 2017, even the governor was surprised. But a subsequent Tampa Bay Times investigation showed Jacksonville leaders knew a Category 2 or 3 storm could cause a loss of life and hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage, and they spent years kicking the can down the road on drainage projects. The most severe problems lie in the impoverished, mostly black neighborhoods near waterways tied to the St. Johns River.

Last fall when ICARE asked its members what problems they saw happening with the environment, water issues were raised as often as all other issues combined. We’ve since learned that problems with the algae blooms in the St. Johns River and the county’s 20,000 failing septic tanks are magnified by problems with flooding.

Climate change is making flooding worse everywhere in Florida, including the tidally impacted St. Johns. In order to adapt, the state is awarding grants to local governments for infrastructure — $500 million last year. But cities and counties must include vulnerability to sea level rise in their applications in order to be eligible. Florida offers grant money to help pay for the needed flood vulnerability assessment. Jacksonville has not performed one. We will ask city leaders to rise to today’s challenges and do what is needed to care for our interdependent web of existence.

Mental Health: People shouldn’t have to go to jail for being ill

Due to the sheriff’s unresponsiveness, ICARE has put this initiative on hold. We will evaluate what has been accomplished up to this point and discern the next steps the find a winnable solution.

We had advocated for better Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, which gives police officers specialized in-depth instruction on how to recognize and de-escalate mental health crises. This helps avoid harm and even death to a person in crisis. The best CIT programs partner law enforcement with courts, mental health professionals, peers and advocacy groups to address mental health issues.

Last year the sheriff did not follow through on an agreement with ICARE to have JSO assessed by CIT International, a national expert in CIT programs.

  • He has said new-recruit police academy training already covers CIT, even though academy training alone is not considered a best practice.
  • He has created a small co-responder program, which pairs a mental health professional with an officer for 911 calls over a mental health crisis.
  • Duval County has created a Mental Health Offender Program, which sends a targeted group of mentally ill offenders to the Sulzbacher Center for treatment. To be eligible, they must be repeat offenders who are homeless.

These last two programs are very small, and the sheriff’s efforts to implement CIT have been piecemeal at best.