Alachua County has already taken several steps to reduce contact between law enforcement and minority groups, but the statewide justice system needs serious reform, a panel of experts said Wednesday evening during a discussion on the University of Florida’s campus.

“It’s not much of a system . . . it’s not managed,” said moderator Bennett Brummer, a former Miami-Dade County public defender and chairman of the League of Women Voters Alachua County Social/Criminal Justice Committee.

Joining Brummer on the panel were Eighth Judicial Circuit public defender Stacy Scott, Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones and Steve Pittman, member of Peace4Gainesville’s board of directors and chief operating officer of Meridian Behavioral Healthcare.

The forum was a joint effort between the Alachua County League of Women Voters and the Bob Graham Center for Public Service.

When Jones became chief of police in 2009, he said he began to notice a troubling trend: A disproportionate number of arrests in Alachua County involved people of color, and too large a proportion for his liking were younger than 18.

Through officer training and efforts to engage with the community, the numbers started to come down, he said. In 2015, GPD arrested 43 percent fewer juveniles than in 2014, and 44 percent fewer black juveniles than in 2014.

The number of arrests in schools declined as well, said Will Halvosa, who coordinates the police department’s efforts to reduce disproportionate minority contact.

Halvosa said from August to Decemer 2014, GPD arrested 38 students at school. For the same time frame last year, the number fell to eight.

Still, for the children who do get arrested, there’s often little recourse, public defender Scott said. READ MORE