A local Facebook group has been formed to build support for an independent commission to review police shootings by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Despite being the target of a tremendous amount of criticism over the high number of shootings, Duval County Sheriff John Rutherford has so far been successful in his efforts to resist the formation of an independent panel to investigate shootings—something the local police union is also opposed to.
However, news this week that the Sheriff was behind efforts to institute changes to Florida law that will further complicate investigations seems to have sparked a backlash. The new legislation pushed by Jacksonville’s Sheriff will allow cops to see all the evidence against them before they are interviewed in any investigation. Police officers will now have a benefit that no private citizens has—the opportunity to speak with fellow officers and review any evidence against them to determine how a story should be relayed to investigators. These changes could have sweeping consequences—for example, the Tampa officers who were fired after failing to put in a full work week had no idea that they were under GPS surveillance. Had they known, they would have likely (by their own admission) relayed an entirely different story than the one that they did share with investigators.
Imagine how this legislation will impact any investigations of police shootings? Or, of incidents such as the one on Merrill Road where a JSO Officer is suspected of negligence in a crash that killed an innocent 86-year old man.
Up to this point, local ministers and activists have been willing to take the Sheriff at his word that he was working towards greater transparency, but news that he was one of the main authors of this troublesome legislation seems to raise doubts about his commitment. Whether he will face political repercussions for his support of such controversial legislation remains to be seen.