Citing safety concerns, JTA bus drivers want at least 2 JSO officers at new city bus stop

JSO was called to main bus station nearly 900 times last year

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Pages and pages of calls for service paint the picture of how much goes on at the busiest bus station in Jacksonville.

The News4Jax I-TEAM discovered the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office was called to the main bus station down more than 800 times last year – the majority of the calls over alleged assaults.

In the last three years, there have also been dozens of attacks on drivers.

In less than 2 months – half of the Rosa Parks Transit Station will close down – and Jacksonville Regional Transit Center in LaVilla will become the busiest bus station in Jacksonville.

JTA officials have added cameras and added private security guards, but bus operators said they are concerned about safety after learning there might be fewer JSO officers patrolling the grounds.

Jacksonville Sheriffs Office records show in one year they were called out to the bus station 875 times:

  • More than 100 times for “suspicious persons”
  • 63 times for “domestic disputes”
  • 27 times for “mental illness”
  • 20 times for assault

The I-TEAM’s investigation into bus driver assaults back in October found there were at least 24 attacks on JTA drivers since 2014. JTA has since finished installing protective shields for every bus on their route.

Chris Geraci is the interim JTA safety officer.

“The challenges by far are the transient populations that come in and out,” Geraci said. “It can be a challenge to maintain staffing levels for worst-case scenarios.”

Geraci said the new transit station opening in March in LaVilla will have more cameras and increased private security officers.

But a sticking point for local union members is JTA is considering decreasing the traditional two JSO officers patrolling the transit station and using more security officers in their place.

“Having one less police officer down there it’s putting everyone at risk you’re actually putting that police officer at risk because if something breaks out and that police officer is with someone running a background check or anything then something else breaks out he can’t leave that person and run over there in 10 to what’s going on over there,” said DeWayne Russel with Amagulated Transit Union. “You’ve got thousands of people coming through there a day. You need more than one police officer during peak time.”

JTA said it is still considering keeping the same amount of JSO officers at what will be their busiest transit station – but have not yet made a decision.

“We will have a much larger footprint of contracted security personnel out here. The JSO presence we are still finalizing; it will either be one to two officers,” Geraci said. “The First Coast Security officers are well-trained. We currently have both armed and unarmed officers at JRT – but they certainly don’t have arrest authority or trespass authority.”

The bus operators union says their recommendation is to keep two officers to handle what they expect will be a similar amount of issues.

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