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Are Jax Residents Safe In City Parks?

Recent Crimes Prompt Concerns

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One Jacksonville woman said she was robbed at gunpoint at one of the most unlikely places -- right near a playground.

She was playing with her children here at Dinsmore Park in Northwest Jacksonville last week when a gunman ran off after stealing her phone.

"(He) stuck the gun to my head and told me if I said anything, he would shoot me," the victim said. "Stuff can be replaced, and I'm not worried about stuff. It's just the matter that you brought a gun to a playground."

On Friday night, Beverly Hills Park was roped off with crime tape and combed by detectives after a 23-year-old man was shot to death and a 9-year-old boy was shot. The boy was expected to survive.

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The two were shot after some kind of large fight, police said. No arrests in the case were made as of Monday afternoon.

These two crimes raise the question: Are Jacksonville residents safe in city parks?

Both Dinsmore Park and Beverly Hills Park are in Northwest Jacksonville. In November, Channel 4 pulled crime reports and documented the parks police responded to most. Hanna Park, in Atlantic Beach, was listed as No. 1, with at least 36 responses last year.

Next was Julius Guinyard Park near Florida State College at Jacksonville's downtown campus, where police were called 32 times, followed by Metropolitan Park downtown, which had 24 police callouts.

"Be alert. Be aware, and be cautious," Jacksonville Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Melissa Bujeda said of park dangers.

Police said random acts of violence can happen anywhere, no matter how cautious people may be. But there are ways to stay safe.

"If you see or feel like you're in a situation or around a group of people that make you feel uncomfortable, leave," Bujeda said.

At Charles Clark Park, in Northwest Jacksonville, where Kaiser Sanders has worked for three decades, violence has been nearly nonexistent. Sanders said the programs his park offers keep children on the right track and should be offered at other parks, too.

"At all times, somebody is at the park doing something with kids," Sanders said. "We keep crime down by doing what we're doing at the park."

Jacksonville has the largest park system in the United States, with more than 300 parks spanning about 80-thousand acres. Police said crimes happen at city parks, but violence is everywhere, from shopping centers to apartment complexes. So being careful and alert are important tips to staying safe in parks and everywhere else.