JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One day after a citizen's anonymous letter to Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams asked that the National Guard should be called out to help patrol the streets of Jacksonville, Williams went before a City Council budget hearing to make the case for more money to keep residents safe.
Williams said he understands the sentiment made in the letter that generated much support from News4Jax viewers. He thanked the community for coming forward and helping find the two people arrested in last weekend's shooting death of a 7-year-old girl and its continuing help in the search for the third suspect.
Williams said the recent upsurge in violent crime here is not a trend, but admitted this is not the time to talk about that, saying it's time to talk about what’s being done, which is seeking funds to hire more officers.
Williams said 100 officers hired last year will hit the street later this year and he is asking for more funding for an additional 20 officers next year.
"The idea of more police officers on the street gives people some reassurance," Williams said. "Everywhere I go, what’s the one thing people want? They say (they) want more police in the neighborhood. This will provide some measure of that. It is not the complete answer."
During Thursday's budget hearing, Williams also talked about high-tech changes coming to the department. Body cameras for officers will go into service in October. The new budget will also fund a real-time crime center that will bring tools like ShotSpotter, which detects gunfire locations, and live surveillance video from all over the city.
"We give them an added measure of security to see a sign that says police cameras (are) in operation. That’s good that is a good thing for us, but obviously, we want there to be a real operation behind (it). Not just a sign and a camera hanging on the pole," Williams said.
City Council members also heard from Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, which could get its largest increase in funding in recent history.
"They gave us four new rescue (units) and one new engine company," Fire Chief Kurt Wilson said. "The engine and rescue will service the Argyle Forest area. Three additional rescues will be Baymeadows, Northside (and) in Woodstock Park, and they gave us extra firefighters to help out with relief."
Those increases need to be approved by the full City Council, but it appears these two departments have the backing to get all they want in the $1.2 billion budget for the 2019 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Funding will be more of a challenge next year, when local governments anticipate tax revenue to be reduced by new homestead exemptions that November are expected to approve.