JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Several neighborhoods in Northeast Florida were among 16,000 communities nationwide that took part in Tuesday's National Night Out, which unites residents and law enforcement in hopes of deterring crime.
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said that community engagement is one of his top priorities.
“It's good to get out and talk to people when there's not a crisis going on or some major event that requires our presence,” Williams said of the National Night Out.
Williams said the event highlighted the positive atmosphere and engagement with the community that he hopes to see more of in Jacksonville. That engagement included 9-year-old Kendaria Mapson asking the sheriff how to become a police officer.
“You have to do really well in school,” Williams told her. “You have to listen to your mom and dad and do everything that you're supposed to and graduate school, and then you can come see us.”
With a wave of violence passing over the mountain in the last few months, Williams said speaking with people during the National Night Out is crucial. He said more than 50 communities and groups, including the Wallace Small Senior Center, contacted the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office asking for officers to attend events.
Kendaria and 8-year-old Lavelle Copeland complimented Williams on his intelligence and politeness.
Erma Lee Cole, a director at the senior center, agreed.
“So glad that he's looking out for us. That makes us feel safer,” Cole said.
Cole said Williams listened to issues voiced at the senior center and that he liked their tactic of using music to stop crime.
“This is something that we do to let people know we are tired of crime in our neighborhood and we're doing something about it,” Cole said.
“We need to work to continue to build a relationship in the community, and we have consistently done that here,” Williams said. “You can't lose focus on it. You have to do that every single day, and we're going to continue to do that.”
Williams said that in the next 20 months, the sheriff's office will hire 200 new police officers.