Mayor, sheriff, state attorney release plan to reduce gang violence

'Jacksonville has a persistent problem with violent crime,' 3 offices say

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The city of Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the State Attorney's Office on Wednesday released the 2019 Comprehensive Gang Reduction Strategy, which has been in effect since September.

The document, which is more than 30 pages, details several initiatives and technology strategies, some of which were previously known and others that are new, aiming to reduce violent crime in the community. It was released the same day one man was killed in a mass shooting that detectives believe was gang- and drug-related.

"You do have cases like this where, hey, you got to roll up your sleeves and get to work, and that’s what we’re doing," Sheriff Mike Williams told the News4Jax I-TEAM on Thursday. "A small number of people in that gang, gun and drug culture are creating a lot of these incidents."

Williams said the Gang Reduction Strategy report is a step in the right direction. 

"What we did was, kind of, put down on paper the things that we are doing," the sheriff said. 

The three offices acknowledge in the report that "Jacksonville has a persistent problem with violent crime," and it's being driven by gang rivalry and drug activity. 

Unlike more traditional gangs from earlier generations, these groups do not abide by a code of conduct. They lack hierarchal structure and organization. They are not motivated by money. Instead, they are motivated by respect and 'street cred' which they earn by making drill videos and shooting rivals.

The plan involving police, prosecutors and city leaders talks about the use of technology to solve crimes and make arrests.

The Sheriff's Office is trying to reduce gun violence by targeting individual offenders.

One way is through gang call-ins. Gang members are brought together and given both warning and encouragement, a “hammer and hope” approach. They are warned of the consequences of continued criminal activity and encouraged to take advantage of available services. Three gang call-ins have been held so far.

The Gangs Unit is making custom notifications, visiting the homes of known gang members -- 262 so far. While 45 percent of those who got visits made follow-up calls to JSO, only 20-25 percent have made use of services offered.

There’s the "9 p.m. Routine" social media campaign to reduce the number of guns stolen from unlocked cars.

Additionally, a gun bounty program that’s been in existence since 2017 has resulted in 394 guns being recovered. The Sheriff's Office is offering $1,000 for tips that lead to the recovery of a gun.

READ: Comprehensive Gang Reduction Strategy

City-led investments in crime-fighting technology include a ballistics database called the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, the Crime Gun Intelligence Center and ShotSpotter gunshot detection. There's also a ballistic water tank, which was recently acquired by the JSO Firearms Laboratory.

Additionally, they incite fear and suppress cooperation with law enforcement by threatening violence and death to anyone who reports information about their crimes.

The State Attorney’s Office is launching targeted prosecutions of gang members, and adding a prosecutor to the Gangs Unit. 

There’s an effort to keep kids related to gang members from eventually joining the gangs.

There’s a gun violence public health initiative. The strategy envisions boot camps, a young adult court, mentoring and social media for intervention.

The three offices note that similar initiatives have been adopted in other cities -- including Los Angeles, Houston and Fort Worth -- with some success.

Community weighs in on city leaders' report

A.J. Jordan, outreach coordinator of Men Against Destruction Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder (MAD DADS), said gangs have been an ongoing issue in Jacksonville.

"We talk to families every single day and all the families are hurting," Jordan told News4Jax on Wednesday. "They want these criminals off the street because, if they stay on the street, they continue to cause harm and havoc to our community."

Jordan believes the way to reduce gangs is by the community speaking up. He said the main issue is that people are not notifying authorities when they have information about a crime. 

“The Sheriff's Office, they do the best they can. But a lot of times, it's us as the community that has the last piece of the puzzle," Jordan said. "Sometimes, JSO is this close and they can’t close it because the community is not telling what they know."

On Thursday, News4Jax spoke with Terrance McHellon, who lived a life of crime for about five years.

"I grew up on 103rd Street alongside some of the gangsters, drug dealers and users," he said. 

McHellon is now clean and works to keep young people, including gang members, out of trouble. He thinks city leaders are just scratching the surface.

"It seems like they're just looking at stats," he said. "They're looking at the big cases that make the news."

McHellon said many young people have a lack of options with bad family life, little encouragement and widespread poverty.

"I’m meeting kids, who are 12 or 13 or 14 years old, who carry guns. On social media, they’re beefing with kids and rival rap groups," he said. "You can almost predict what you’re going to see when you going to these neighborhoods. And it starts with trash, sanitation, no playgrounds, corner stores over grocery stores, kids just running around and flipping on mattresses."

McHellon believes there is a disconnect between city leaders and community members, and the gap needs to be bridged.

"It’s going to start with getting out in these communities, looking people in their face, asking them what they need and meeting those needs," he said.

McHellon admitted there is no easy fix, saying it's going to take more people to do what he does -- volunteer, mentor, get their hands dirty and show young people they care. 

Terrance will be hosting a community meeting Thursday night on the Westside. The event, hosted by Better Dads Society, begins at 7 p.m. at Fatballs on 103rd Street near Ricker Road. 

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.