JaxPAL wants kids to feel safe outside after drive-by park shootings

Mobile unit brings fun to Westside neighborhood after violence rattles city

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A week after drive-by shootings at two parks in Northwest Jacksonville left many parents on edge, families in one Westside community enjoyed a fun day with Jacksonville's Police Athletic League.

The Mobile JaxPAL unit brought games and water slides to the Victory Pointe Apartments off Ramona Boulevard, where more than 100 children, parents and community members enjoyed the festivities.

The event was designed to ease safety concerns and build positive relationships between the community and the officers who protect it.

That community was rattled last week when a boy was shot and a woman was grazed by a bullet at two related drive-by shootings at local parks. Both are OK, but the shooters haven't been caught.

The violence prompted the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office to increase patrols at several parks in the area.

Families in the Westside community visited by the Mobile JaxPAL unit Tuesday said the event couldn't come at a better time. Parents said seeing the police presence eased some of their concerns when it comes to their children's safety.

"My mom doesn't like us going places without any protection or anything,” 15-year-old Nahsay Williams said. "I feel comfortable knowing that Jax police is out here trying to help us."

Officers said they, too, were on edge after the shootings.

"As a mom, it's alarming that we have this type of violence in our community, but we are trying to combat that violence with positive events,” Lt. Lakesha Burton said. "We grew up playing outside, so we want to get back to that. We want kids to not have to look over their shoulders when they're playing at a playground or playing on the slide."

The police presence at the event made parents feel more comfortable with their children participating.

"They got the right staff, the right protection out here; I love it,” Sheena Williams said.

Officers said parents also need to be more involved with what their children are doing, especially during the summer months.

"I think that it's important that parents are aware of the friends that [their kids] surround themselves with, and also when they do go out, to be observant of their surroundings,” Burton said.

JSO wants youngsters to feel comfortable contacting police if they see something suspicious.

"We are visiting different communities and engaging with our kids because we will continue to take back our communities and provide a safe place for kids to come out and enjoy themselves,” Burton said.

Mobile JaxPAL has plans for more events like Tuesday's in Northwest Jacksonville.

Representatives for several children's athletic associations who use the parks targeted in the drive-by shootings are working with law enforcement and city officials to develop a long-term solution for improving safety at local parks. They are expected to make an announcement Thursday related to that effort.