JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Weeks after an I-TEAM investigation into drugs and prostitution in Jacksonville neighborhoods, which have parents and children fed up and afraid, residents asked us back to say they're now in trouble for their efforts to keep their families safe.
Four weeks ago, we showed elementary school students walking to and from school on the same sidewalks as prostitutes in Woodland Acres and spoke with parents concerned for the safety of their kids. Then, in Jacksonville Heights, residents complained about prostitutes getting picked up in their front yards.
Now, if that wasn't enough of a headache for residents, one family is in a fight with the city of Jacksonville after building a tall fence around three of their properties to shield themselves from the prostitution and drugs.
Jacksonville Heights: Family violates code by building 6-foot fence
"We'll find needles and a lot of condoms all over this neighborhood," said Fred Bianco.
He and his wife Lori say their breaking point was when they pulled into their own driveway and found a man picking up a prostitute on their property.
"We've seen them get picked up right in front of our driveway. My older brother's wife and my wife were coming back from somewhere here, she (prostitute) was getting picked up right here in my driveway," they said.
The couple said, what's making matters worse is what the men often leave behind. The I-TEAM found condoms in the grass across from their home.
The Biancos said they've contacted the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office multiple times but claim the prostitution problem hasn't gotten any better.
"We've been told that unless they physically catch them in the act of doing something unlawful, there's nothing that they can do," Lori said.
So, Lori and Fred decided to take matters into their own hands. They built a 6-foot fence around their three properties. They said the fence keeps the drugs and the sex on the other side of the wall -- protecting their property and their family.
"It makes me angry! I've lived in Jacksonville my entire life. I've lived in Duval County my entire life. I've lived here for almost 30 years," said Lori. "My grandchildren are not safe to come and play in my yard, to experience being part of our family in the neighborhood their parents grew up in, because we have to deal with this every day."
They said they are furious that they were recently cited by Code Enforcement with the city of Jacksonville because their fence exceeds four feet, which is the height limit for where their fence was built. We checked and the city has issued three separate warning citations. The case is scheduled for a status update soon.
District 10 City Councilman Terrance Freeman said he wouldn't comment on the Biancos' specific code violations -- pointing out the compliance department is separate from his duties -- but he does want residents to know police are doing their best.
"I'm grateful that this story was brought forward because it really gave me a chance to reach out to our zone commander," said Freeman. "The first thing JSO advised me of is one, they know they're there, their vice team has made that a major priority."
In the meantime, the Biancos said the city's focus on their 6-foot fence is not where the city's focus should be.
"They got their priorities messed up," said Fred.
"They need to focus on the prostitution, the criminal activity, and they need to get a handle on that and not worry so much about a fence height -- especially on a law-abiding citizen," Lori said.
Woodland Acres: Kids and parents concerned about prostitution
Across town, in Woodland Acres on the Southside, the I-TEAM found police in marked patrol cars in the area of Acme Street. But, 15 minutes after we watched officers leave, suspected prostitutes started walking the streets again.
At her mother's request, we spoke to 10-year-old Jayden Walls four weeks ago about having to walk to and from elementary school -- essentially side-by-side on the sidewalk with prostitutes.
"We talked to you a few weeks ago about these women walking the streets. Have things gotten better?" we asked Jayden after seeing her walk home from school with suspected prostitutes walking nearby.
"No, it seems like it has gotten worse," she said. "And, it's just not good for little kids like us to see that."
We watched as Jayden was walking home from school with her sister and friends, and right beside them was a woman acting erratically. What we saw, and what parents witnessed as well, causes them concern about possible drug use along the route their children need to walk.
"When I picked my son up from school, she (the woman acting erratically) was just high, and I told my son to get in the house because I didn't want him to see that person. It was really scary," a parent told us.
Another parent told the I-TEAM she doesn't think police are doing enough.
"I've reported (prostitutes) myself. I've called (police) out here myself and just like they said, they can only do so much, and they're just right back out here."
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office declined an interview with us, but JSO public information officer Melissa Bujeda provided the following response:
"The JSO Vice Unit continues to conduct covert operations in response to prostitution activity and citizen complaints. The JSO Patrol and Enforcement Division conducts overt operations to assist in addressing prostitution complaints. Anyone who sees activity taking place in their neighborhood is encouraged to call 904-630-0500 to have an officer respond."
(See below for JSO's answers to our previous questions about prostitution.)
We showed District 1 Councilwoman Joyce Morgan video showing what these school children are exposed to. She told us police can't fix the prostitution problem alone.
Morgan says the women themselves have to want to live a clean life and take advantage of the resources that are offered to them when they are arrested -- like counseling and drug treatment programs.
If you are having an issue in your community, not only should you call police, you should also contact the council member who represents your district.
JSO responses to previous I-TEAM questions about prostitution: