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story.lead_photo.caption Jacksonville Police Chief John Franklin sits in his office Sunday. Since joining the force a month ago, he has worked to ease tensions in the department. - Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun

Before he even took office last month, John Franklin faced the challenge of calming some very troubled waters at the Jacksonville Police Department.

In the past year, the department's officers have had three chiefs, a personnel shake-up and a complex, contentious relationship with city leaders.

Franklin said he has done what he can to ease the tension, and he thinks it may be working.

"I think the challenges I've hit are mainly a lot of anger, mistrust by some of the personnel here against certain people over at City Hall," Franklin said. "They feel they've been micromanaged for quite some time, and that's not my style."

Franklin, a 28-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, officially took office on June 4. Within his first week, he sat down with all of his supervisors to dispel any lingering tension.

"I told them, 'Whatever feelings you have or had against the last administration, I want all of that buried,'" Franklin said. "I think the first meeting made a lot of difference with the supervisors. From there, it's been a lot of conversations, trust-building, feeling people out for ideas."

Franklin said he began early on tackling the "perceived slights" done to the Police Department, starting with returning several officers to the positions in which they had the most experience.

After the ouster of former chief Geoffrey Herweg in June 2017, Mayor Gary Fletcher appointed Robert Bamburg, Jacksonville's city attorney, as "director of the Jacksonville Police Department," a position that had not existed previously.

In a lawsuit filed against the city, multiple police officers said Bamburg reassigned detectives and school resource officers and assigned "less qualified officers" to take their place, reassigned the department's public information officer and excluded captains from disciplinary hearings concerning their own officers.

Franklin said he reversed a majority of those changes before he even took office.

"I have moved some people back to where they were because they were good at what they were doing, and I couldn't find a reason for why they had been moved," Franklin said. "I understand during the interim they had a patrolman actually running internal affairs. A patrolman would be intimidated if they had to, say, interview the mayor or anybody of any high authority over at City Hall. A patrolman is not in the position to handle the stress and pressure and that kind of potential intimidation. That just wasn't a wise decision."

Many of the changes, Franklin said, just did not make sense.

"Like I said, I've been a cop a long time. I'm not accusing anybody of anything, but I know what moves would appear to be vindictive," he said. "You don't want to p*** off an entire department."

Alongside building trust and relationships with the people in his new department, Franklin said he wants the personnel to get to know his personality -- and his strict code of conduct.

Franklin, whose experience ranges from training with the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Marshals to teaching law enforcement ethics courses at the City Colleges of Chicago, said his extensive career in police work influences his personal life as well as his professional one.

He won't wear his police uniform home -- he changes each day before leaving work. He doesn't set out shipping boxes on any pricey items until the day of garbage pickup. In Chicago, he said, you don't want people driving along the street to know who you are or what you own.

He does not take seriously insults posted online -- "I'm not impressed by any keyboard cowards" -- and he does not have many social media accounts.

And, what he said might be the strongest holdover from his years in Chicago, he believes officers must hold themselves to a high standard on and off duty.

"I'm a firm believer that your outside conduct counts just as much as your on-duty conduct," Franklin said. "I expect you to live an exemplary life on- as well as off-duty."

In his former job as police chief of Dolton, Ill., Franklin said he had to fire three officers who acted improperly during his two-year tenure.

"I had to make a lot of changes," Franklin said of his work in Dolton. "I had my work cut out for me."

He carried that same stringency, he said, when he moved to Jacksonville.

The move to Jacksonville was something of a surprise, Franklin said. He did not expect to get a callback, and in fact, when Fletcher narrowed the list of candidates for the job from 36 to three, Franklin wasn't on it.

"I used to say in construction, measure twice and cut once," Fletcher said. "I took that same approach of going back and looking. I wanted to go back and make sure. When you pick a department head, he's not going to be a chief for a short time. He'll set the stage for years."

Since hiring Franklin, Fletcher said he's glad he went back and reviewed the candidates one last time.

"Every day I think that department becomes more and more his department," Fletcher said. "He was very comfortable from day one. He is a natural leader. As far as the community is concerned, I hear nothing but rave reviews."

Fletcher said Franklin gets out in the community often and can be seen anywhere from "senior citizens' bingo to yoga class."

Also, Fletcher said, relationships between City Hall and the Police Department have improved.

"In the last year we have not had a chief in that position," Fletcher said. "Now that we do have somebody, we're moving forward in a strong way. I think that I've had nothing but the best intentions for the Police Department, and I always will."

Multiple City Council members -- one of whom filed a lawsuit in 2017 to remove the former police chief -- said they, too, have been happy so far with Franklin's leadership.

"I believe everybody involved was frustrated with what was going on prior to this and getting back to a state of normalcy is a happy occasion for all parties involved," council member Les Collins said. "It seems that there has been an enhanced calm across the department. I think he has effectively righted the ship."

Council member Tara Smith, who filed the initial lawsuit against former chief Herweg regarding his eligibility to hold public office, said she is pleased with the changes Franklin has made to the department and, perhaps more importantly, the officers with whom she has spoken are happy, too.

"He reinstated the public information officer, detectives are being placed back in CID, and he's reversing all of those moves that were made in retaliation," Smith said. "I'm very pleased with Chief Franklin. I think the most important piece is that he has restored trust and integrity in the department and between the police officers."

Ultimately, Franklin said he is still early in his career in Jacksonville, and that many more obstacles will likely crop up during his tenure as chief. But, at the moment, he said, things are going well.

"I realize that this is the honeymoon phase," he said. "Everybody's smiling at everybody right now. There may come a time when they say 'I don't like this guy' or 'He's too pushy.' But I know that my goal is to give these officers the best leadership I can and the best tools I can give them so they can do their job to the best of their ability. The mayor told me to lead, and that's what I plan to do."

Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun
Jacksonville’s new Police Chief John Franklin says he has told department supervisors: “Whatever feelings you have or had against the last administration, I want all of that buried.”

Metro on 07/04/2018

Print Headline: Jacksonville police chief hits relief valve early on

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