JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As the shooting death of a 7-year-old girl sent shock waves across Jacksonville, one concerned resident sent the mayor and the sheriff a letter, outlying growing fears about crime in the city.
The anonymous letter blames the crime on lack of police protection, saying, "Jacksonville is a war zone and no one seems to care - certainly not you."
I review the mayor's mail each morning and, Wednesday, this one stuck out. Even though the person who wrote it only identified themselves as "Very Concerned Citizen - The Voice of the Silent Majority," it speaks loudly.
This week, people living in the Westside neighborhood, where a shootout Saturday resulted in the death of 7-year-old Heidy Rivas Villanueva, told News4Jax they're scared about the recent violent crime, some pointing the blame at the lack of police presence.
Other people around Jacksonville shared similar sentiments about the violence.
"(I do) not very safe at all," resident Angela Davis said. "Because everywhere you go there is killing. It's bad. It's scary."
The letter Wednesday lays it on the line. The letter opens by saying:
Where do I begin? My family and I are horrified by the daily news reports about shootings around Jacksonville, even in broad daylight. It is totally shocking. Do we need to call in the National Guard to ensure citizen safety?"
That actually happened in Jacksonville 26 years ago, when the National Guard patrolled Interstate 295 because of a series of sniper shootings.
The letter addressed to Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams goes on to say:
If you think the nation is not watching how bad and unsafe Jacksonville has become, you are sadly mistaken. Jacksonville is right up there with Baltimore, Detroit, and Chicago. Just where is the police presence? I never see any patrol cars in the community."
Both the mayor and the sheriff addressed many of the concerns Tuesday when they talked about the arrests of two men in Saturday's shootout, during which police said a bullet entered a parked vehicle and fatally struck Heidy.
"But we as leaders have to keep those emotions in check and make sure that we give those who have a job to do what they need to go out and arrest these folks and prosecute these folks," Curry said at the news conference announcing the arrests.
Thursday, the sheriff will have a chance to talk to City Council members about funding needs, including paying for officers hired last year and negotiated raises for others.
City Councilman Garret Dennis has been critical of the administration in the past but said Wednesday that Jacksonville can't be turned into a police state.
"I’m a true believer, a firm believer, that you just can’t police our way out of it. You just can’t throw criminals in jail," Dennis said. "We need to have known policing. We need to have prevention and intervention and I don’t think we’re doing enough of that."
But as the letter points out, people are watching what the city is doing -- and they are reacting.
"I would not walk around here at night," said one resident, who wished to remain unnamed.
On Wednesday, I invited the mayor and the sheriff to come to the station and talk live about the problem, but did not hear back.
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