JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville's current mayor and sheriff, who are both up for re-election next year, successfully campaigned for their first terms on a promise of making the city safer.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office makes up about 36 percent of the city's budget, the most of any department, and that budget has increased under the care of Sheriff Mike Williams and Mayor Lenny Curry.
The department has rolled out programs like ShotSpotter, which alerts officers to gunfire, and the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, a new testing system to trace bullet casings from crime scenes to guns. The city has also added more beat cops and plans to open a real-time crime center that will tie its new programs together with a $3 million upgrade to surveillance cameras across the city to capture crimes as they occur.
But have these changes had the desired effect of reducing crime in Jacksonville?
A recent Florida Times-Union article, citing statistics provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for the first half of 2018, made a case that they haven't, pointing to an increase in the number of murders from 2017-2018, despite the changes being made at JSO.
News4Jax also tracks homicide and murder numbers for Jacksonville each year, and according to our records, through the beginning of December, Jacksonville is trending behind last year's murder total.
According to News4Jax records, during the last year Mayor Alvin Brown was in office (2014), there were 93 murders. In 2015, when Curry and Williams took over, that number increased slightly to 96 murders.
A spike in 2016 pushed Jacksonville into triple digits with 108 murders, and we went even higher in 2017 with 118 murders.
With one month left in 2018, Jacksonville has seen 91 murders.
The FDLE report indicated Jacksonville's clearance rate per 100 offenses was 17.1, one of the lowest in the state, but that number represents only the first six months of the year.
“We have to provide service to over 1 million people in this community, so it’s not just about violent crime issues,” Williams said over the weekend as he opened his re-election campaign office for 2019. “It’s also about the citizens' calls to see a police officer. We’ve got to be able to answer those calls in a timely manner, and we've got to continue to improve upon that, and the way you do that is staffing.”
Looking at his agency's numbers through this point in the year compared to last year, Williams said violent crime is down, but some high-profile events, like several mass shootings and the violent deaths of two 7-year-old children, have raised the profile of crime in the city.
“It doesn’t take away from any of the tragic issues, but when we look at an overall trend where the community is heading -- we are headed in the right direction,” Williams said of the violent crime numbers. “They are always going to have a bad day and the bad weekend, but we've got to stay focused on the work.”
Williams and Curry were not available for comment Monday. News4Jax also asked State Attorney Melissa Nelson and former state attorneys Angela Corey and Harry Shorstein to weigh in, but we have not heard back yet.