Jacksonville police use of OT to reduce crime raises political questions

Some ask whether initiative is crime-fighting tool or election ploy

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Extra overtime authorized for police officers over the next two months as part of Operation Safe and Sound is designed to get a handle on violent crime, according to the Jacksonville's Sheriff's Office.

The fact that the program began last week and ends the same week as the first round of city elections, however, has some people questioning whether it is a true crime-fighting tool or a political ploy.

Most anti-crime initiatives rolled out in recent years have included additional overtime for officers. Asked about Operation and Safe Thursday, Sheriff Mike Williams said it provides or extra manpower for police to target more than just violent crime in the various patrol zones.

The Sheriff's Office said nearly $11.7 million is budgeted for officer overtime this fiscal year. Nearly $500,000 was spent between October, when the budget year began, and December.

"Every zone is different; every neighborhood has its own challenges," Williams said. "While violent crime dominates the headlines, as it should, there are a lot of other challenges."

Williams said because they are using overtime money to fund the effort, it is not open-ended.

"I will tell you this: I think there was some confusion about the date. We don’t do additional operations like this on an Election Day. Yes, it’s an election time, but it’s also the first quarter of the year, so that’s really the driver of the operation."

But given that this initiative is happening during the election season for city offices, including sheriff and mayor, some challengers are crying foul.

"It’s a short-term fix to a problem that really needs and deserves lasting real solutions," mayoral challenger Anna Brosche said. "This should be a red flag to the taxpayers and the citizens deserve those real, lasting solutions."

Mayor Lenny Curry didn't comment for this story and his chief of staff, Brian Hughes, released a statement saying this falls on the state attorney and sheriff. 

"These leaders budget the time of their personnel and resources at their discretion, so please direct the inquiry to law enforcement," Hughes said.

Curry's re-election consultant, Tim Baker, released a more pointed statement:

"The only thing political about the ongoing efforts to combat violent crime in our city is Anna Brosche’s sad and dishonest attempts to score cheap political points on such a serious issue that she never seemed to care about before launching her campaign."

For those living in crime-plagued neighborhoods, they feel like whether it's during the campaign season or not, extra patrols can't hurt.

"If they see more police, there'll be less crime," Teresa McCoy said.

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