JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Residents of Jacksonville overwhelmingly support police in Duval County, according to the results of recent survey of residents.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office community survey, conducted by the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida, found that 78 percent of Jacksonville residents approve of the way the Sheriff’s Office is handling its job.
Patrol Zone 2 (Arlington) had the highest level of overall approval at 83 percent, while Patrol Zone 5 (Jacksonville's Westside east to I-95) had the lowest level of overall approval, but it was still 73 percent.
“In a somewhat surprising finding, given the national narrative the last year or two, even the areas of town that face the highest crime rates are very supportive of the police,” PORL faculty director Dr. Michael Binder said.
According to the survey funded by JSO, 88 percent of Jacksonville residents overall said that they feel safe in their neighborhoods.
Patrol Zone 3 (San Marco, Southside and Mandarin) had the highest assessment of neighborhood safety, with 93 percent. Patrol Zones 1 (Downtown north to the Trout River) and 5 had the highest percentages of respondents who said that they don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods, with 20 percent and 21 percent, respectively.
Overall, 70 percent of residents said that Jacksonville is a safe place to live.
“In a lot of ways, this is analogous to the ‘I don’t like congress, but I like my congressman’ phenomenon,” Binder said. “Residents feel safe where they live and work, but are less optimistic about Jacksonville in general.”
Residents of the Cleveland Arms Apartments, in the heart of Zone 5 where three murders took place last November, aren't as quick to give police good reviews.
"Sometimes you think they were doing a good job, but (with) a lot of the killings and crimes going on, it's kind of crazy right now," resident Baritt Petrios said.
But people News4Jax spoke with in downtown and Springfield did agree with the show of support for police, even after recent shootings after Art Walk and at the Jacksonville Landing.
"Feel extremely safe here," James Williams said. "I haven't had any issues or concerns for the most part."
Most residents find Jacksonville officers courteous, competent
When asked about specific encounters with JSO personnel, 79 percent said they found them to be courteous and competent. Patrol Zone 6 had the highest level of perceived courtesy and competence with 84 percent.
Patrol Zone 5 had the most respondents (19 percent) who said JSO personnel are courteous and competent. While white respondents strongly agreed (61 percent), only 35 percent of black respondents strongly agreed that JSO personnel are courteous and competent.
“While generally in agreement about courteousness and competency, the strength of agreement is one of the few findings that greatly differs among racial groups,” Binder said. “If improving community relations is a goal of JSO’s leadership, this might be an area to focus on for the future.”
“That gap in citizen satisfaction by race is not acceptable,” Sheriff Mike Williams said. "Researchers asked those who were not satisfied why, and I am digging into the responses. Some of this appears to be simple things such as rudeness, or being perceived as arrogant or unfriendly. That behavior, whether real or perceived, can change an encounter with a citizen from a simple one to one that is confrontational."
The strongest opinion in the survey was 93 percent support for officers wearing body cameras -- something Williams said will begin on a test basis in the coming months.
"I am not surprised we have this level of support of our plan to have a body-worn camera program at JSO," Williams said. "As I talk to people in the community, I hear nothing but support for the idea."
The survey illustrated the consistency in the responses of an open-ended question about what JSO could do for respondents in their neighborhoods, according to Binder. Across all patrol zones, approximately half of the participants wanted an increase in patrols, visibility or police presence.
According to the survey, 61 percent of Jacksonville residents think JSO does a good job investigating officer-involved shootings. However, there are meaningful differences across racial groups, with 71 percent of white respondents agreeing that JSO does a good job handling such shootings, but only 44 percent of black respondents agreed.
“In light of recent media attention, this highlights one of the differences in opinion within Jacksonville’s diverse community,” Binder said.
Additionally, the survey revealed that there is unequivocal support of 93 percent in Duval County for the use of body cameras for JSO officers.
“There is almost no variation across patrol zones,” Binder said. “The stunning levels of support for the implementation of body cameras across all demographic groups, and I suspect likely for differing reasons, suggests that JSO should find a way to bring this initiative to life.”