JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After an I-TEAM investigation uncovered Jacksonville police officers spent 4,200 hours responding to petty crime calls at area Walmart and Target stores, one city councilman said the excessive use of resources has his attention.
Based on information provided by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, if a rookie patrol officer responded to each Walmart call, those hours would have cost $78,679 in patrol hours, which are paid by taxpayer dollars.
City Councilman John Crescimbeni said the NICE committee, which used to be known as the Blight Committee, considered the idea last year of charging entities that use “excessive resources.”
The penalty model is used in other cities, and Crescimbeni said he thinks it could be beneficial in Jacksonville.
“(We looked at) chronic, habitual, problematic businesses that have a knife fight every weekend or a shooting all the time, shoplifting, or what have you, that are demanding an excessive amount of police services,” Crescimbeni said. “And we looked into what other cities are doing and how they dealt with that, and many cities across the U.S. from Florida to Alaska, are charging those entities for excessive consumption or use of police resources.”
Crescimbeni said different cities use different models, but the principle is already at work in Jacksonville.
“It’s not anything unlike we’re already doing,” he said. “I mean, the Sheriff’s Office, if you have a burglar alarm in your home, you get a couple of free passes, but if you’re consistently forgetting to turn your burglar alarm off and you set it and they dispatch an officer, after the free ones, you have to pay.”
The councilman, a known fiscal conservative, is currently on the Finance Committee and the NICE Committee, which looks at blight issues in Jacksonville.
Crescimbeni said the city should take up the issue, which he said falls under “human blight.”
“Taxpayers are working hard for their money. They’re sending their property taxes to City Hall for us to spend, and one thing that they would like to see more of is additional police officers patrolling their neighborhoods,” Crescimbeni said.
The issue didn't advance in the NICE committee last year. If the new City Council president renews the NICE committee or one like it to address neighborhood blight, Crescimbeni said he thinks the issue could resurface for possible city action.
The Sheriff's Office said it alerted Walmart to the problem three years ago, and Walmart said it is working on a new program in Jacksonville called "Restorative Justice.” It said the diversion program helps alleviate police calls for first offenders.
Walmart said it is working on providing any data that would show if the program is working.
Target has not responded to the I-TEAM's request for comment.