JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There was an increased police presence to ensure safety at Wednesday's Art Walk after two double shootings occurred last month in downtown Jacksonville.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and Downtown Vision worked together to created a safety plan for the monthly event. Many officers could be seen positioned on every street corner, close to crowded areas, in parking lots as well as the outer perimeters of Hemming Park.
"We have added some officers, but again, it's not just about adding officers, it's making sure the plan in place is smart and that we're utilizing those officers to the best of our ability and have them in the right places," said JSO Assistant Chief Jackson Short.
Last month, two teenagers were shot in an alley on North Laura Street, a few blocks from Hemming Park, where the first Art Walk event of the year was underway, according to police.
Sheriff Mike Williams said the Jan. 4 double shooting was connected to a second double shooting 12 days later at the Jacksonville Landing that resulted in the death of a 16-year-old boy.
Police have said the shootings weren't random and, overall, the downtown area is very safe. But business owners expressed concerned that the two incidents will not only scare away customers from attending Art Walk, but from coming to the urban core altogether.
About an hour before this month's event began at 5 p.m., Short met with vendors to let them know security was not going to be a problem.
"They recognize that what happened in the past was an anomaly. It’s not something that anyone has seen before and we don’t anticipate having any problems like that moving forward," Short said.
Christian Daley, who sells jewelry at Art Walk, said the mood Wednesday evening felt a lot different compared to the days after the Jan. 4 double shooting.
“It seems like everyone came together instead of letting it ruin Art Walk. A lot of us were afraid the shooting was going to affect it, but brought everyone out as a whole," Daley said.
As police were visibly on patrol at every corner Wednesday night, Mayor Lenny Curry also made the rounds to assure attendees that they were safe.
Curry said that despite what happened downtown last month, his administration is constantly working on improving safety.
“We’re on it. The sheriff’s on it. The city is investing in public safety and we’re going to focus on every neighborhood, including downtown, (especially) at an event like this that has for years happened without incident," Curry said. "Encourage people to come out and let them know that it’s going to be a good time and they should not be fearful.”
Jacksonville resident Angela Lewis told News4Jax that she and her family have been coming to Art Walk for many years, but she was a little skeptical about bringing her children to February's event.
“As soon as we got out here, and I saw the cops and everything and how many there are, I didn’t have a problem at all bringing them," Lewis said. "You would see police officers on the corners, and everything else, but as far as seeing them riding around, and cars being very present, and just seeing them very openly out, it was never like that before.”
At a meeting with Downtown Vision last week, police announced that there would be a bigger patrol presence at the Art Walk. Downtown Vision has also made safety changes, including checking on lighting in the area.
Officials with Downtown Vision said they're also looking at ways of controlling big crowds, which they hope will help people feel more comfortable attending the event.
Police also emphasized the "see something, say something" policy, asking anyone who sees something concerning during the event to let the Sheriff's Office know.