Sheriff candidates speak about gang issues

5 of 7 give ideas about how to deal with root of crime problem

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Some say the recent wave of crime in Jacksonville is the result of gang violence and retaliations against other members.

Sheriff John Rutherford has talked openly about gangs in the community, but said they are nothing like the well-known gangs in Miami, Los Angeles and New York City. But now with the election of a new sheriff set for early next year, gangs and the recent violence in the River City are becoming a big concern for the candidates.

Five of the seven candidates spoke Friday about the issue. They all acknowledged gangs are here, but each candidate has different ideas on how to deal with them.

Rob Schoonover said when he was working as a homicide detective, he knew gangs were responsible for a number of murders in Jacksonville. He believes the way to deal with them is to change the way officers are patrolling the streets.

"We went to the sector system years ago," Schoonover said. "It just broadened the area a patrolman rides. I want to go back and create smaller areas, and that is how they are going to react and meet these people on a daily basis. The community sees that officer; rather, it's a man or woman. That is how they can build that trust and confidentiality. We need the community support in addressing this problem."

Jimmy Holderfield, who's backed by the Fraternal Order of Police, said the way to solve the violence and gang situation is to look at what is happening at the Duval County jail when gang members are booked in after an arrest.

"That is a big problem when you have rival gang members incarcerated in the same areas within our detention facilities," Holderfield said. "I think what the key is right now is getting that intelligence to our patrol officers as soon as possible. And I think that is where the disconnect is."

Ken Jefferson, former News4Jax crime analyst and retired Jacksonville sheriff's officer, said the way to ease the current gangs and the violence spree is to get the sheriff and officers back on the street and out of their cars.

"My campaign is, if you know something, say something," Jefferson said. "But they are not going to say anything if they don't trust you. You got to build the trust back up. Right now all over the United States, as well as Jacksonville, there is a great distrust of the police."

Sgt. Jay Farhat, who still works as a homicide investigator for JSO, said he sees the problem every day and points to an answer previously given, but also has a way to pay for it.

"We need more officers. There is no doubt we have always been below the national average of officers per capita. We are big on the top-heavy side," Farhat said. "I have a restructure plan to reduce the number of appointed staff members, and use that funding to hire additional officers and put them on the street."

Mike Williams, who is now retired from JSO and has the backing of Rutherford, said the way to deal with gangs is to deal with another problem in the city.

"For us here in Jacksonville, the gang issue, the violence issue for us, it's all driven by the drug trade," Williams said. "That is really where we have to focus some new effort and get ahead of."

Tony Cummings was unavailable for comment and Lonnie McDonald, who recently filed to run for the office, had no contact information available.

The candidates said existing programs to fight crime, such as the Jacksonville Journey, need to be revamped and have the community brought into them. They said the Jacksonville Journey worked when it started and money was poured into it.

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