Jacksonville launches crime-fighting program for hotels

Tourism Industry & Public Safety Alliance will improve safety at all hotels in the city

A new crime and safety initiative focused on the hotels in Jacksonville launched in collaboration with city and state tourism officials.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A new crime and safety initiative focused on the hotels in Jacksonville launched Friday in collaboration with city and state tourism officials.

“Tourism Industry and Public Safety Alliance,” or TIPSA, is a partnership of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Visit Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and City Councilman Danny Becton. The program is designed to get those in the hotel community to share information with each other in the spirit of “see something, say something.”

It’s not meant to replace 911 calls, but can be used like a “Next Door” app community for hotel owners to share observations and ideas with other owners and JSO.

“So when an individual comes on our property and is checking door locks, going around car doors and checking them, I do a call for service," said Fred Pozin of the Ramada Conference Center in Mandarin. "The Sheriff’s Office comes out (and) the person is gone. But if I let folks know in my industry this is who we’re looking for, this is the type of individual you may want to look at, we caught them on camera, keep an eye out for this person -- that’s what it’s really about.”

Hotels across the city can be hotbeds for crime. A man was shot to death early Tuesday morning in a room at the Hometown Inn and Suites off J. Turner Butler Boulevard. Jacksonville police have responded to hundreds of calls for service at that one hotel over the last three years. The 68-page list of calls include a wide variety of incidents including traffic accidents, disputes, assaults, theft, drug incidents, prostitution and deaths.

“So not only things like auto crimes and other property crimes like that, but things just as serious as human trafficking can be put on this," JSO Assistant Chief Paul Restivo said. “That’s the beauty of this site."

Becton began the initiative just over a year ago with Visit Jacksonville, FRLA, JSO and several concerned local hotel owners to reinforce the fact that the “safety of Jacksonville visitors is our No. 1 priority.”

News4Jax Crime and Safety expert Ken Jefferson, who helped finalize the TIPSA initiative, said hotel crime isn’t just confined to one area of the city.

“Just last week we had incidents at a hotel at an extended stay hotel on the Southside," Jefferson said. A few months ago we had issues on the Northside. And then, of course, there (are) Westside issues, so there’s no specific area that needs to be targeted more than others."

Ahead of Friday’s announcement, Duval County hotel owners and general managers met to learn about the program, the benefits of joining, and the opportunities that could come from TIPSA as it evolves.

Thirty hotels in Jacksonville have joined the program so far and between 50 and 100 are expected to be signed up within a month.

TIPSA has three main components:

  • Basic safety standards all hotels should comply with:
    • Check ID at check-in
    • Keep track of previous incident reports and provide all front desk employees access to it
    • Standardized payment procedures, locks and key security
    • Develop an internal protocol for suspicious activity awareness and reporting
  • Enhanced communication and access to JSO
    • JSO Assistant Chief for Zone 3 Paul Restivo will spearhead this effort for JSO
    • JSO has created an exclusive email account where hoteliers can share information directly to them on suspicious activities and incidents.
  • Hoteliers to join new peer-to-peer WhatsApp thread
    • There is a newly formed WhatsApp group for hoteliers and key JSO personnel to maintain constant communication on suspicious activities.

The WhatsApp group and the JSO email are a peer-to-peer information sharing group and NOT a crime reporting tool. All crime activity should be reported to JSO via the emergency (911) or non-emergency number (904-630-0500).

TIPSA is a pilot program for Duval County but the hope is to expand it to other counties and have it become the standard prevention effort for the area.

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