Pastors want 9 p.m. curfew, National Guard to fight gang violence in Jacksonville

Proposed curfew would be in certain parts of town, would allow exceptions

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A group called the Issachar Ministerial Alliance is asking for a state of emergency to battle gang violence in Jacksonville. The request includes a 9 p.m. curfew and the Florida National Guard to help patrol Jacksonville's most dangerous neighborhoods "to give the police adequate room for aggressive policy."

Pastor Kenneth Adkins was alone Monday when he delivered letters to Mayor Alvin Brown and Sheriff John Rutherford asking for a state of emergency to be declared in targeted neighborhoods.

Adkins said the Grand Park neighborhood, the Moncrief corridor and area around Cleveland Arms Apartments should be included in the curfew and increased patrols.

Pastor Kenneth Adkins delivers letter to City Hall.
Pastor Kenneth Adkins delivers letter to City Hall.

Adkins said he has met with 44 pastors who are backing the call for emergency actions, but he declined to name the other pastors in the alliance because some of the them are getting push-back for being in support of the curfew.

"All of them received pressures from different people ... from other pastors (saying) 'Maybe ya'll should do that,'" Adkins said, who added he is getting "a lot of hate from this."

READ: Letters to Mayor Alvin Brown, Sheriff John Rutherford

Adkins said he will also overnight a letter to Gov. Rick Scott making the same requests.

The move comes three days after the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office announced that two shootings last week that left three people dead and several others injured were gang-related. 

An existing Jacksonville ordinance passed 12 years ago sets a weekday curfew of 11 p.m. for people under 18 -- midnight on weekends -- unless they have a parent or guardian's permission, or if they are on they way home from a job. The first violation would include a written warning. A second violation comes with a $100 fine of the parent or guardian.

The new proposal calls for a 9 p.m. curfew, but includes exceptions for people traveling to and from work, church, or for an emergency, and it is not limited to juveniles.

"Innocent citizens may become involved in contacts with the police that could be avoided if a 9 p.m. curfew was imposed over the next two months," Adkins wrote in the letter to Brown.

The mayor said Monday he thinks people are aware of the existing curfew, but, "You have to continue to remind people that it exists right now."

News4Jax has requested the number of curfew violations issued this year, and both the Sheriff's Office and clerk of court's office are working on that information.

Gil Smith, News4Jax's crime and safety analyst, says the current curfew is problematic because there are too many exceptions.

"It just takes so much time to try to prove this, and with the manpower shortage, other officers are handling calls for service and you don't want to be tied up for a long time trying to prove somebody should be out on a curfew violation," Smith said.

Adkins wants the city to give police additional resources and money for overtime pay so the officers can target people out after curfew.

While Brown and others in the community applaud the involvement of pastors and others, News4Jax has not found a signal person in favor of a 9 pm. curfew.

"Because not all of us fall into the category," who is about to graduate from Sandalwood High School and was honored Monday for his community involvement. 

Betty Burney, a former school board member who remains active working with high school kids, is also against the curfew.

"I actually think that it is not necessary," Betty Burney said. "I think what is necessary is that we develop the children more."

If the curfew were to be made permanent, it would require approval of Jacksonville City Council, which would be a tough battle.

"It may be effective for short while. I don't think it offers any long-term solutions to the problems," said Councilman Bill Gulliford. "We got a systemic problem in the neighborhoods that we got to address for these young people."

Proposal makes news on weekend

Adkins and Pastor Ardel Jones spoke Sunday afternoon on Tyler Street, where three people were shot and Sherika Edwards and Shelmika Felton died after a drive-by shooting.

The pastors said they plan to offer support to Rutherford and his officers in the battle to fight gang violence.

"We're not against the community. We're not trying to lock up a certain color of people or certain number," said Jones. "We want to give police room to do their job and do what needs to be done to make Jacksonville safer. Jacksonville has become a war zone."

Members of the advocacy group M.A.D. D.A.D.S have also responded to the pastor's request. A.J. Jordan, the vice president of M.A.D. D.A.D.S., said the curfew is a nice idea, but doesn't address the problem in a way that will fix anything.

"I think they mean well, but that's not the answer. Because gangs are children or adults that commit crimes," said Jordan. "Curfews and abiding by the law once again don't mean anything to those types of people that's committing crimes."

Jordan believes parents need to take responsibility and lead their kids in the right direction.

"Sometimes it takes getting kids out into a different environment -- taking them to the zoo, taking them to the beach, taking them downtown," said Jordan. "They need to be exposed. And then if you expose, you see the hope!"

Some members of the community agree with Jordan's point of view. Thomas Brown said he grew up in the neighborhood where the two women were shot last week. He believes criminals won't follow any curfew.

"You can implement the system but unless you have a support cast that's going to go along with it, it's not going to work," said Brown. "We need the family, the mothers, the uncles, the aunts, the cousins, everybody has to be a part of it for it to work."

Rutherford issued a statement Sunday saying the Sheriff's Office was not invited to be part of the news conference, but he welcomes the support.

"As witnessed by our community involvement, we are always willing to work with different community groups to reduce violence and enhance each neighborhood's quality of life. I also want to thank all those citizens who have reached out and are working with JSO to stop the violence in their neighborhoods."

Mayor Alvin Brown's office has also issued a statement. Chris Hand, Brown's chief of staff, said the mayor's office said it has not received a letter from Adkins, but will review the letter when it has it.

"Mayor Brown strongly believes that we must protect our young men and women from crime, and give them opportunities to succeed as productive citizens of our community. He has worked closely with members of the Jacksonville faith community in his efforts to combat the causes of crime.

"Mayor Brown does not believe that a curfew would help the effort to fight crime and the causes of crime. Our City's efforts need to be directed at lawbreakers rather than law-abiding citizens. Some of the Jacksonville pastors with whom Mayor Brown has worked share his concerns about the proposed curfew. We encourage you to call them for their reaction. "

News4Jax has also received a statement from mayoral candidate Lenny Curry's office.

"With six shootings in two days, is it any wonder that pastors across Jacksonville are frightened for their communities? Violent crime is spiraling out of control, and as mayor, working with these community leaders and law enforcement professionals, public safety will be priority number one. Together we can restore Alvin Brown's cuts to police, stop this failure to lead, and make our city safe again." 

News4Jax has also asked the two men running to be the next sheriff for a response to the proposal.

Ken Jefferson, candidate for sheriff, spoke on camera with News4Jax.

"I applaud their efforts for wanting something down but there's no need to have a knee-jerk reaction right now. This violence didn't just start, and it's unreasonable to call for a 9:00 curfew at this time simply because, the resources are not there. You can't have officers only looking for persons violating their curfew when there's calls for service, there's emergency calls that's going on, they won't have the time to find all of these young people that are going to be out past 9:00."

Mike Williams, candidate for sheriff, sent this statement:

"I applaud the willingness of the ministers to engage, however the implementation of a curfew is a legislative issue not a police one.

"It's time to look into the use of gang injunctions, their history in other communities, potential issues, and discuss their potential effectiveness. 

"Additionally, as I have been talking about from the beginning of the campaign, community engagement is a key asset to the efforts of law enforcement. Building relationships and trust is an on-going process. You do that through communication and transparency. Transparency is an imperative. The challenges are not compromising investigations and protecting victims/witnesses during investigations. Tips from the area residents are needed 24 hours a day to assist the efforts to drive down these acts of violence. 

"Community problem solving is about working with people to solve crimes and prevent crime in the community. There must be the resources to keep officers in the neighborhoods and let them grow those relationships with neighbors, after the crime is reported, or the perpetrator taken to jail. It is an investment to allow officers the opportunity (time) to grow their relationships with the business owners, citizens, and community leaders to address the root causes of crime in their neighborhoods."