About three months into this year, Jacksonville police have already shot
more people than they did in 2004, 2005 or 2006.
The uptick began in 2007 when 19 people were shot - more than in the past
three years combined.
And while experts say police shootings may be on the rise nationally,
Jacksonville has more than double the shootings since 2007 of many cities of
Some community leaders say the shootings are eroding trust in the
high-crime neighborhoods just as Sheriff John Rutherford seeks a buy-in from
residents in stopping the crime problem. Calls for an independent, citizen
review board are resurfacing. Rutherford says his officers are shooting
because suspects are putting police in positions where they have no choice.
"I challenge anyone to tell me which one of those we shouldn't have
shot," Rutherford said, adding that officers did not shoot in several
instances where they would have been legally justified to do so.
There have been eight police shootings in Jacksonville so far this year,
six of them fatal. An off-duty Jacksonville officer also killed a suspect in
St. Johns County.
In 2007, nine of the shootings were fatal, though twice it was ruled the
fatal shot was self-inflicted.
Rutherford says the increase is the result of the "gratuitous nature" of
violence in Jacksonville and suspects taking the cops on.
But analysts say that does not explain why Jacksonville, since the start
of 2007, would have more police shootings than Miami, Orlando and Tampa
combined. Jacksonville had 27 shootings, while the other three cities
combined had 23.
"Would you really think that cop-shooters gravitate toward Jacksonville
more than Miami?" asked Ken Adams, a public policy and criminal justice
professor at the University of Central Florida who has studied police use of
force for a decade.
Rutherford says Jacksonville has a younger population than other Florida
cities but added he didn't have a specific reason why more people in
Jacksonville would choose to be violent with police.
Suspects had a gun in all but four of the shootings and half shot at
police first, Rutherford said. In the other cases, two suspects had knives
and two others tried to run officers over with their car, Rutherford said.
Rutherford pointed to several examples where officers would have been
legally justified to shoot but instead used a Taser or solved the problem in
Other causes of the increase in police shootings, Rutherford said, are a
shortage of police officers and the aging of children born in the crack boom
of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Those kids are now teens and young adults
growing up in a culture of drugs and thuggery where it's accepted to shoot
at police, Rutherford said.
Seeking a solution
Some community leaders want Rutherford to examine how his officers are
trained and what can be done about the shootings. And Rutherford's standard
cry of getting the "gun-toting thugs" off the street angers others who say
it doesn't help tensions between officers and the community.
"The sheriff has drawn a line in the sand that it's us against them,"
said Juan Gray, board chairman of the Jacksonville chapter of the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference.
When police shootings are on the rise, people normally point the blame at
the police, said Thomas Aveni, a researcher and consultant with the Police
Policy Studies Council.
But police are reacting to the situations and have little to do with
increases, said Aveni, who has been a police officer and trainer for more
than 30 years. He also holds seminars on the use of deadly force.
"If you chose to pull a gun on a police officer or shoot at a police
officers, you should expect to be shot back at," said Nelson Cuba, president
of the local Fraternal Order of Police.
State Attorney Harry Shorstein says his role is to determine if there is
criminal wrongdoing in each police shooting. Shorstein has found all the
shootings in his 17 years were justified, though he will at times make
recommendations to the Sheriff's Office.
Internal standards within police departments are almost always more
stringent than legal guidelines, Aveni said.
In Jacksonville, officers involved in shootings must also must appear
before the Response To Resistance Board, where five high-ranking police
officials question them about the incident. They can clear the officer,
recommend training or call for a more detailed internal investigation.
Some of the shootings involve multiple officers and, of the 29 officers
who have come before the board for the 2007 shootings, 23 did not need any
further action. Six were ordered additional training, and none of the cases
were tagged for investigation. The training consists of an officer meeting
with a superior about how to improve the specific issues the board found
with the shooting.
Since Rutherford was elected in 2003, one officer was fired in 2004 and
another resigned during an investigation.
The Rev. Mark Griffin of Wayman Ministries says he's still troubled by
the shooting of an 80-year-old man in January 2007 and thinks there needs to
be an independent review of shootings.
Griffin, who led a group of pastors in anti-crime rallies and a program
to buy back guns, said it bears looking at why there are so many more
shootings in Jacksonville compared with other cities.
Eddie Staton, national president of the anti-crime group MAD DADS, says
leadership in the Sheriff's Office needs to look at the trend in shootings
and see if changes need to be made.
Rutherford said that is looked at after every shooting and no major
policy changes have been made in his five years as sheriff.
'A pattern of disregard'
Rutherford, who opposes a citizen review board, said people often don't
understand the split-second decisions that officers have to make and the
steps they take before pulling the trigger.
"The restraint that these men and women are showing out on the street is,
I think, nothing short of remarkable," Rutherford said.
On Thursday, Rutherford said police were legally justified to shoot but
chose not to in 57 additional cases in 2007. After the Times-Union requested
the reports for those cases, the Sheriff's Office determined that not all of
those cases would have justified deadly force and Rutherford said an exact
number was not available.
Examples of when officers chose not to shoot include an October incident
where a woman told police they'd have to shoot her and then grabbed a
butcher knife from her waistband as she walked toward police. An officer
used his Taser; she dropped the knife and was arrested.
Rutherford has been pushing for 225 more officers for months now and says
having more police on the streets would cut down the number of shootings. He
says there's an attitude of lawlessness on the streets because criminals
think they can get away with anything - including shooting at police.
Mayor John Peyton said he agrees that police presence needs to be
increased but deferred to Rutherford on how to stop police shootings.
Either way, Peyton said one symptom of the city's violent crime problem
is "a pattern of disregard for the men and women in uniform."
Adams, the UCF professor, said the likelihood of confrontations
escalating to violence is based more on the type of contact police have with
residents than the number of officers on the street. Measures that are known
to curb shootings include increased training, knowing how shootings are
treated within the department and strong leadership at the top.
"If the message is 'Go out there and be aggressive and round up those
mean bad guys,' " Adams said, "it could cause more friction with the public
that can escalate toward these more deadly, violent situations."
Times-Union writer Paul Pinkham contributed to this report.
firstname.lastname@example.org, (904) 359-4550
Discuss the police shootings on Reader Advocate Wayne Ezell's blog at:
Jacksonville.com/readeradvocate "The sheriff has drawn a line in the sand
that it's us against them." Juan Gray, board chairman of the Jacksonville
chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference" The restraint ...
out on the street is, I think, nothing short of remarkable." Sheriff John
Rutherford Shootings per year
The number of the police-involved shootings since 2004. Records from
previous years were not available from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
2004 - 7
2005 - 5
2006 - 5
2007 - 19
2008 (to date) 8
Police shootings since 2007:
81 Percent of the people shot by police who were black men
27 People shot by police since January 2007
17 People shot by police in 2004, 2005 and 2006 combined
13 People killed by police since the start of 2007
8 People shot under the age of 18 The Response To Resistance Board
Below is a step-by-step look at the process after an officer with the
Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is involved in a shooting:
1. Directly after the shooting, the Cold Case unit is assigned to
investigate the case. The State Attorney's Office also begins an
investigation to determine if any criminal charges will be filed.
2. If the officer is cleared by the State Attorney's Office, the
internal investigation begins.
3. Reports and facts are complied and sent to the Response To
Resistance Board, which hears the case. The officers involved and other
witnesses are called before the five-person board. The board then makes
a recommendation to the sheriff, either to clear the officer or suggest
additional training or discipline.
4. The sheriff makes the final decision in all cases.