Sheriff Williams on crime in Jacksonville: 'There are things that we can do better’

Williams says he leaves 2019 feeling ‘frustrated’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County saw its highest murder total in two decades during 2019. By News4Jax’s count, there were 128 people murdered with 31 homicides that were either not ruled a murder or that are pending classification.

Sheriff Mike Williams explains why he understands the frustration of so many people in Jacksonville, but he also spoke with News4Jax on why he believes police should keep doing what they’re already doing.

“I leave 2019 frustrated, obviously. I think there are things that we can do better. I think there are things that we can draw from the community to help us be better as a community, and so we’ve got to work on that,” Williams said. “We roll out of 2019 into 2020 focused on the work, and we’ve got to stay that way until we see the results we want to see.”

Williams said his office looks every year for patterns and trends, trying to identify ways to improve. It’s something he says will continue along with trying to figure out a better way to reduce the violence.

The sheriff said looking at only one year’s crime numbers reveals too small a window, so he favors consistency in how the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is fighting crime. He also spoke about new technology and initiatives being used by the Sheriff’s Office.

“ShotSpotter, NIBIN, doing work out of the Gun Crime Intelligence Center -- is that proving effective? Or Cure Violence, that’s a pretty innovative strategy. That’s pretty cutting-edge. I’m a fan of Cure Violence. I think that work is important, but it’s not, you know, none of these stand-alone will solve the issue. I think it’s a combination of all these things together and staying focused for the right amount of time,” Williams said.

Kent Justice: “There are going to be people, critics if you will, in our community who say, ‘That’s not good enough. If it’s not working, if the number of homicides and murders are going up then why would you keep doing something because it doesn’t seem to be effective.’ What do you say to them?”

“I think you look at the last several years -- of the last 20 years, you’ve got numbers that roll based on what you’re doing in the community, what we’re doing in terms of not just engagement but enforcement activity, all of that. I think one year is a very small, narrow snapshot of looking at success,” Williams said. “Crime trends is typically a three to five year window.”

Sheriff Williams used Oakland California as an example, saying they dropped homicides by more than 40%. He said that effort, however, took seven years, and that it combined community efforts for crime prevention and investing in young people.

The sheriff also talked about why we don’t often see police body camera footage released in Jacksonville. News4Jax referenced a case in which community members are asking to see what happened in a police-involved shooting that resulted in the death of a 22 year old.

Williams pointed out that all body camera footage is treated like evidence.

“If that officer is charged, he’s charged and all that evidence will be public record at some point during that criminal investigation. If he’s not, that case comes back to us and then we do an administrative review,” Williams said. “Our standard is higher than state law, so we’re going to be very critical of what that officer did. All of that process is an internal investigation and it’s protected by state law.”

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