WCJB EXCLUSIVE: GPD Chief Tony Jones discusses ‘Black Lives Matter’, his new policing strategy and much more

Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones speaks with WCJB TV20 News' Ruelle Fludd about the recent uptick in violence, COVID-19, and the Black Lives Matter movement
Published: Sep. 28, 2020 at 4:48 PM EDT
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***In an exclusive sit down interview with WCJB’s Ruelle Fludd, Chief Tony Jones discusses the uptick in gun violence in the city, the ‘Black Lives Matter' movement, defunding the police and much more. The full 30 minute interview is attached above. ***

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Gainesville has seen an uptick in gun violence in recent months.

“It’s a health concern now," said Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones.

According to the GPD, gun violence has more than doubled since 2019. In late July, there were 86 verified cases as fire-arm related shooting incidents.

Over the weekend, GPD reported four separated gun related incidents starting from Friday evening to Sunday late afternoon.

“It’s more than just a random shooting or shootings,” said Jones. “Every time we have a shooting, of course my heart goes out to the victims but my heart goes out also to other people that have been impacted by the trauma associated with that. Particularly in some of the neighborhoods where individuals may hail from, just the thought of ‘it could be me next.’”

Jones' solution to combating the increase of gun-related crimes is community policing - an effort that city commissioners, citizens and cops all have to participate in.

According to Jones, he is planning a new enhanced community policing strategy.

“We’re gonna redistribute our personnel, we’re going to re-distribute our zones," he said. "We’re going to put the same officer in smaller beats where the community knows the officers and the officer knows the community.”

In recent months, the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has tried to shine a light on social injustice. In the same vein, the ‘Blue Lives Matter’ movement has also gained support.

“All lives matter, that’s one of the first things,” Jones said when asked about both movements. "When I see the brave men and women that put on their uniform throughout the nation and go out and say they are going to serve and protect, my heart goes out to them. But then, when I also see the citizens, everyday citizens, in the street, that are just functioning as everyday individuals my heart goes out to them also.

“If you see victims of crime, particularly deceased victims of crimes, my heart goes to them. So when I say all lives matter, I’ve seen it on both sides. All lives matter in this thing, and until we come to the table, just like you and I are doing right now, and begin to discuss our particular differences and begin to come up with solutions to address whatever differences, we will have a divide.”

A full transcript of the interview is available below:

TV 20: I want to talk about the most recent shooting, the one on West University Avenue, early Saturday morning. What happened?

Tony Jones: On that particular shooting, it’s still under investigation but I do know that I think that we identified one suspect and maybe apprehended one suspect. But that is part of a number of shootings that have went on in this particular city and it’s a health concern now.

It’s more than just a random shooting or shootings that we don’t have individuals— anytime that you have a shooting of course my heart goes out to the victims but my heart goes out also to other people that have been impacted by the trauma associated with that. Particularly in some of the neighborhoods where individuals may hail from, just the thought of, ‘it could be me next,’ or whatever the case may be.

So that’s why I take it very serious when we say shooting. Each shooting that we have, we investigate. You can’t categorize them all as this or that. You have to look at the individual motives and some motives are going to be similar. Some motives are going to be totally different.

TV 20: Right. So you mentioned it’s a health concern at this point--

Tony Jones: Oh it is a health concern.

TV 20: So how do we heal?

Tony Jones: How do you heal? This particular health concern is that we as a community will have to come together. One of the things that I think you all were covering, and I’ll talk a little bit more about it, was the violence that erupted.

And one of the things that is part of that they use the medical model on that. The first thing is you try to mediate differences between individuals that may be having disagreements. You try to mediate those particular things right up front so it don’t escalate to a violent activity.

The second thing that you try to do is work with individuals that are at-risk of being engaged in violence either as a victim or a perpetrator.

And the third thing that you try to do is you have to mobilize the community to say ‘violence of this nature, we’re just not going to stand for it, this is wrong.’ You have to send that particular message out that this is wrong. There’s other ways of resolving conflict and conflict resolution.

TV 20: You say rash, increase, things that we have covered so far but people already know that shootings are wrong and the community already knows that. I can only imagine that the community wants to work together to do that but what’s the first concrete step to moving towards that direction?

Tony Jones: Well let me go back to what you said- There’s a theory called string theory and under the string theory; One of the things you have to look at: A group of individuals that may not can accomplish the goal that they want legitimately, so they’ll do it illegitimately.

When you start looking at shootings, you got to look at the victim. You also got to look at the perpetrator. You got to also go back and trace where they’re from, what are their roots, look at some of the string theories that you go back there. Some of that relates back to jobs, some of that relates back to opportunities. So there’s, it’s more than just the two people that are involved. It involves many other individuals that are out there.

The other thing is, which I do not want, to accept in Gainesville this is the norm. ‘This is the norm so oh well this will happen,’ we do not ever want to reach that proportion. I don’t care whether it’s Gainesville or anywhere else in the United States that we have to say that this is unacceptable.

TV 20: Let’s get into the numbers. Late July we had reported 86 investigations but 300+ shots fired calls were, you know, we don’t know exactly what happened with that. Where are we at now in late September?

Tony Jones: In late September, I don’t have the actual numbers but it probably is, I would guess that it’s higher than what you are reporting right now; so that’s why I say it is a health issue.

It is a health issue because when you start looking at those numbers, the thing that you have to look at is the trauma associated with it. I remember in one shooting scene that I went to, afterwards, I noticed there were children there. The first thing I asked the officers and I think I met with the staff, ‘who is providing the mental health services for these kids?’ 'Cause the trauma that they experience, who is following up with the mental health service and they did get a provider.

TV 20: And that’s just another layer of…

Tony Jones: Precisely.

TV 20: Things you guys have to deal with as the police force. So talk to me about..

Tony Jones: But we partner, we didn’t provide it but we partner with an outside entity. The community they partner with an outside entity to come in and provide that.

TV 20: But it still popped up in your mind?

Tony Jones: Oh most definitely.

TV 20: And that’s been a nationwide conversation, its made its way to Gainesville. We’ve had a number of peaceful protests or demonstrations at City Hall, outside of GPD, in the streets. What’s your response to those demonstrations?

Tony Jones: Under the First Amendment, you got a right to assemble to peaceful protest and I certainly would not want to do anything that would infringe upon the constitutional guarantees of all Americans.

TV 20: But it seems like they’re singling you guys out. The Dream Defenders and other groups, defund GPD, take away this, re-allocate that. But it’s not as simple as it may seem, there’s a process.

Tony Jones: It’s very complicated and I think if you look on a national level particularly when you look at under-served communities and do your research before I say this, but I think that one of the most recent polls show that 68% of them want police officers in their neighborhood. Some of those even want 20% more than what they are right now but that’s a delicate balance.

We want to work in partnership with the community and not be an occupying force. Being an occupying force, would nearly, you know then these types of atrocities will occur.

So what we want to do is work with each individual neighborhood and we want ask them to define, ‘what is public safety for your neighborhood, what does that mean?’ Then we try to work together and do it.

If you’ve been following the city commission meeting, one of the things I announced is that the COVID slowed us down but early 2021, more like the first quarter, we’re going into an enhanced community-oriented policing strategy for the Gainesville Police Department. And when I say we, I mean the Gainesville Police Department and its citizens itself. We’re going to redistribute our personnel. We’re going to redistribute our zones. We’re going to put the same officer in smaller beats where the community knows the officers and the officers knows the community. Not everybody of course, but they will have some familiarity on both sides.

More than that, when you do community policing, it’s more than just doing that, it’s problem solving. What are the issues in the neighborhood? Then together we identify the issue because sometimes we as police can come in and say ‘your issue is this, this and this.’ When you talk with the citizens, it can be totally different.

So what we want to do is sit down with the citizens and identify what are the issues and together come up with solutions for that community.

TV 20: Right. But it’s delicate, it’s not necessarily a thin line but it’s a delicate…

Tony Jones: Well you have to involve all people.

TV 20: Exactly.

Tony Jones: And when I say all people, even justice-involved individuals. Now do you know what I mean by justice-involved individuals?

TV 20: Yes but for news sake..

Tony Jones: You have to involve individuals who may have been in the justice system. How can you set up and say I can come up with a strategy to work with those individuals when they’re not at the table. So you’ve got to involve all.

TV 20: So when you’re working on that partnership between your city commissioners, your citizens and of course your force how does that work? How does that start? Is there any butting of heads?

Tony Jones: We’re gonna actually begin the process. I and internally and some citizens will review where we are and what this is going to look like. Anything with community policing should be devised from the bottom up instead of top down. In traditional policing, you’ve got the chief, the majors everybody else sitting in a room and say ‘this is what it should look like.’

What we’re doing this go-around is we’re going to the individual offices on the street and community members. What does this look like? And then the other thing is training for both. Not only the police officers but we need to have some citizens in there. They need to understand what are the concepts of community policing. So it’s going to be carried out in a different fashion but I look forward to that.

TV 20: So you say training on both sides, it’s a statement that I, that community policing at least, that it’s hard to get to that point because you have citizens that don’t understand what a day in the life looks like to you. But on the other half, you guys don’t know what a day in the life of a citizen looks like sometimes. So when we get to these points of sitting at the table and community policing, what’s in place now?

Tony Jones: Police youth dialogues and police dialogues, I think you all have covered the University of Florida football last week or week before last that we went out and did that. I want you to know that we’ve did over 80 of those in the community and over 300 individuals where we spend 4 hours doing just that. What is your perception on police? Police, what is your perception of the community?

Then we have a professional facilitator, River Phoenix organization, they come in and help do that. And we sit down and have healthy dialogue, we also have a meal. We sat down and discuss differences so when we walk out the room, we have a better understanding of one another.

TV 20: More national topics that we’re going to hone down into Gainesville. The Black Lives Matter movement versus the Blue Lives Matter movement, how do you play both cards? Or, how can you play both cards? Or, how can you have a position on either entity and still perform your job?

Tony Jones: All Lives Matter, that’s one of the first things when I see the brave men and women that put on their uniform throughout the nation and go out and say they’re going to serve and protect, my heart goes out to them. When I also see the citizens, everyday citizens, in the street that are just functioning as everyday individuals, my heart goes out to them also. If you see victims of crime, particularly deceased victims of crime, when you go, my heart goes out to them.

So when I say All Lives Matter, I’ve seen it on both sides. All Lives matter in this thing and until we come to the table, just like you and I are doing right now, and begin to discuss our particular differences and begin to come up with solutions to address whatever differences, we will have a divide. The one thing the Gainesville Police Department has did since I’ve been here, we’ve always opened our doors to dialogue.

TV 20: Let’s talk about money. You guys are getting brand new body cams from the commission. I think it’s upwards of three million dollars over five years? So that leans towards the transparency and accountability that people are asking for but at the same time we’re dealing with hiring and staffing shortages and having to cut positions. Where are lying with that, with that balance of money?

Tony Jones: One of the things when you start saying body cameras, let’s go back to the 21 century policing strategy that President Obama announced in I guess 2015 or 2016, that was one of the recommendations. At that particular time, the Gainesville police department working through a citizen’s group, one that was appointed specifically by the mayor and one was a police advisory council, they came together.

We all agreed that for transparency and accountability, we needed body cameras but it was cost-limited to get everyone one. A body camera at that particular time, the technology was still growing and the cost was exorbitant. So with this latest go around, one of the things we wanted to do, which we really wanted to do back in 2015 was expand the usage of the body cameras. Not only for the officers but for the citizens and everybody else as well and the commission voted to do that.

When we begin to look at hiring police officers and recruiting police officers; this is a tough time to be a police officer in the United States. With everything that is going on across the nation but still I’m happy to report today that we still have people who want to be Gainesville police officers.

One of the things that has slowed us down I think, and I have to verify this, I think we have like 16 vacancies. Two years ago, I could tell you it would have been like 40-something vacancies. So we, some of the reasons we have the vacancies at this particular time, was many of our training academies were closed due to COVID. So if I hire a person, where do I send them to get their state-mandated training? But these academies, Ocala and the Institute of Public Safety at Santa Fe, are two primary academies that we use. They’re opening up and so we are in the process of hiring again.

One of the things we learned, not just to bring anybody. We’re looking for problem solvers, I’m looking for individuals that are community oriented. I’m also looking for individuals that reflect the community that you serve. So you have to put those things into consideration when you go out seeking candidates to be a Gainesville Police Officer.

When we start talking about reduction of police officer positions, one of the things that if you look at the GPD budget this particular year, we looked at differential policing strategy. I heard it well and loud and clear from some of the citizens and commissioners. Some calls you don’t need a full-fledged armed Gainesville police officer to respond to the call to service. Somebody stole your bicycle, ok why are we going to send a full-fledged armed police officer out there when we can send a public service technician. Which is one of our civilian populations that we can send out there.

Another crisis we have here in Gainesville is mental health. A lot of calls that we receive and I don’t have the percentage; it will involve an individual that may be experiencing some mental health crises or is in need of mental health services. We experimented two years ago with a co-responder team with Meridian Behavior Health services, it’s worked out real well. We can get you a copy of the stats. One of the things that internally and externally I heard is, ‘we want more, we want more, Chief I wish we could have more of these teams out there.’

So one of the things that this budget provided for this year and with the systems of Meridian ready to get the grant. We’ll have an additional four teams so we can have more coverage. Not only do they respond to crisis, and I won’t call it crisis, but when people are in need of mental health services. They do a lot of follow-up, so it’s not just I’m coming okay I took care of this call and I’m complete with this call. They come back and they follow up with those individuals to they make sure they’re getting the best care.

TV 20: So that’s all apart of the community policing?

Tony Jones: That’s all a part of the community policing objective that we’re going to have. So that’s it, some of the other things that we did, even at the front desk, we got a position called tell serve. In the past, I’m taking a police officer out of the neighborhood and I’m putting them at the front desk. My troops came to me and said, ‘sir you’re into this differential policing thing?’ I said yes. Well why are we taking a full-fledged police officer that could be out in the community, serving and protecting and we’re at the front desk? Our neighbors come to the front desk, they got issues. Yes sir, but can we do something else?

So we’re bringing non-sworn civilians to come in, teach them to write reports. Now if they run into something that requires a police officer, we’ll get one there. So we’re doing a number of things that we kind of changed around. We also with our aviation unit going down, some of the funds was shipped to Gainesville Fire Rescue because they have a community paramedic program. Where they go and follow up on individuals that are suffering from medical issues continuously so they proactively check up on those individuals.

TV 20: Switching topics, game day is coming up this weekend. How are you preparing your officers? What are you preparing for? What do you expect?

Tony Jones: This is going to be a different game day with the University of Florida capping the attendance of individuals that can come into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. So therefore, we will be out there with eh Governor’s order and just order maintenance. We will be out in the neighborhoods and the adjacent communities. We will be out in the community. We want people to come to Gainesville and enjoy themselves but we also want people to be respectful of each other.

TV 20: So COVID, let’s talk COVID; we know your guys' procedures have changed in regards to COVID. That’s something I believe we’ve reported on a number times but things are different now that the students are back. This is what every entity has been preparing for, the student’s return and mitigating the spread but that’s another thing tacked onto what you deal with day today. What are expecting in regards to game day, outdoor parties, indoor parties, students, community members gathering, how do you guys tack that on your back?

Tony Jones: You be very conscious of it. We have to also be very conscious of the Governor’s order. When the language that was included in there allows you to gather and so we have to be very very cautious that we’re not coming up in violation of that. We can certainly encourage individuals to wear masks or do social distancing.

Only reason I don’t have mine is I’m doing this interview right now but you see mine right here for the public, I do have a mask. So we would certainly encourage individuals to practice good health while they’re out here because this COVID could still appear.

We have lost lives here in Gainesville as a matter of fact, I walk a neighborhood a month my last walk that would have been when? July? The chairperson died of COVID. So that really hit home with me, was leading the march, walking and talking in a Southeast neighborhood and subsequently sad.

TV 20: Do you want to name who it is?

Tony Jones: No I don’t want to put his name out there.

TV 20: My final question, let’s say you hire an officer and you don’t know where you’re going to put him yet. You’re meeting with him one on one, him or her, you’re going to send him or her out on the streets or put them on the front desk. What’s one message that you want to tell them that you hope will always sit in the back fo their head no matter what scenario they’re dealing with?

Tony Jones: I want you to be first constitutional in carrying out your work. I want you also tot be consistent in carrying out your work. What you do on one side of town, you do on the other side of town. The other thing that I want you to be is I want you to be compassionate when dealing with neighbors and be transparent.

These are some of the things that are big practices of the GPD. They’ll tell you I call it the three C’s. But I really ask them and that boils down to create people how you want to be treated and I think you’ll do well in this position.

TV 20: I know there’s a new rule about open containers being allowed, I wanted to know what kinds of challenges you’re expecting to combat with that?

Tony Jones: In that particular rule, the city commission voted to allow open containers. I think this was during the effort with the COVID. I think it is something that all of us are still looking at the result. I’ve heard both pros and cons about it.

I met with a neighborhood, we met about two weeks ago and they say, ‘well they already do that, what’s new?’ That was one neighborhood, this is the chair of the neighborhood telling me that. Then I’ve heard some that say well, particularly individuals may walk into the path of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and stuff. So we’re still kind of monitoring it right now particularly after last Friday when the Governor’s order came out so I’m still looking at it.

TV 20: When you use the phrase all lives matter, a lot of people that see that as a politically charged phrase. So to revisit that, what do you think about the recent protests and the idea that African-American communities and people are unfairly targeted by police?

Tony Jones: Welly my thing is, when I say all lives matter, being a black person look a the number of my population or race that I belong to that is killed prematurely. Not only by law enforcement but brown people. That is something that I say all lives matter. All Lives, regardless of race, regardless of whatever your political position. If you’re a human being, to Tony Jones, Gainesville police chief, your life matters to me.

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