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Mayor, sheriff and state attorney address crime surge in Jacksonville

Jacksonville’s three top leaders addressed a surge in crime in the city on Tuesday.
Jacksonville’s three top leaders addressed a surge in crime in the city on Tuesday.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville’s three top leaders addressed a surge in crime in the city on Tuesday.

News4Jax sat down with Mayor Lenny Curry, State Attorney Melissa Nelson and Sheriff Mike Williams to ask about a violent trend.

According to News4Jax records, there have been 148 homicides so far this year and 466 people shot. Those numbers are on track to significantly beat last year’s record numbers.

Recently, there’s been a string of shootings in Arlington, including one where a 7-year-old and his father were shot outside a youth football game. Eight people were shot in the neighborhood over a six-day span.

“Very, very frustrated but we have to acknowledge that these are long-term investments,” Curry said.

The Jacksonville leaders acknowledge the city is heading in the wrong direction and the numbers are extremely high and concerning.

“We talked with law enforcement leaders across the country and nobody can really put their finger on what’s driving that,” Williams said. “But you’ve got increases across-the-board nationwide. We have a 20% increase in homicides, 20% increase in aggravated battery, 40% increase in overdose deaths.”

Williams announced the arrests of eight people Tuesday, part of a drug trafficking organization. He said the group is behind at least 15 murders, probably more.

Investigators are also using crime technology through the gun intelligence center, gunshot detection software and community programs like Cure Violence. But there are still issues. And that’s why leaders say they need to appeal to neighbors to speak up and report violence or red flags.

“Less than 20% of the shots now captured on that technology are ever even called into 911. So there are kids who go to bed every night hearing gunfire. That’s their normal. That’s part of their life. And people don’t call it in. And part of it is fear," Nelson said. "So, yes, it’s hard for a prosecutor. It’s hard for police officers who are out there canvassing, trying to put a case together when we talk to people as you do when you go to those scenes. And people say, ‘I didn’t see anything.’ And we know they did.”

For the past five years in office, Curry, Williams and Nelson have banded together to fight these issues and understand people are antsy but say the investments taxpayers have been making take a long time.

“We need people in the neighborhoods, and we need to do it in a way that they feel safe and protected,” Curry said. “Anyone of those instances is one too many and unacceptable. But people need to know that by and large, neighborhoods are not the wild, wild West. Unless you are involved in the drug trade or around the drug trade, gang activity, the likelihood of you being a part of one of these murders is pretty low.”

They also announced a gun bounty program that will give $1,000 for anyone who calls in with information about a person who has illegal possession of a gun.

Call Crime Stoppers, and if that person is arrested and the gun is recovered, the tipster gets the money. The number is 866-845-TIPS.

In a separate interview with News4Jax, Ben Frazier of the Northside Coalition responded to the state attorney’s comments about people not reporting crime they witness.

The sheriff, mayor, and state attorney discuss record level of violence; community leaders also weighing in.
The sheriff, mayor, and state attorney discuss record level of violence; community leaders also weighing in.

“I think that is a part of an issue, as well as a lack of trust, transparency and accountability on the part of law enforcement. All the surveys show that when it comes down to trust, the Black community in Jacksonville, according to Michael Binder at the University of North Florida Public Opinion (Research Lab), clearly indicates to us that there is a lack of trust between the Black community and the police department," Frazier said. "People don’t want to talk to the police because they don’t trust the police.”

Frazier is proposing multiple incentives to bring down the crime rate, including job training and job creation programs in underserved and marginalized areas in Jacksonville.

“There needs to be acknowledgment on the part of city officials and acceptance that there is, in fact, a direct connection, an inextricable link if you will, between poverty, unemployment, economic degradation, gun violence and crime," Frazier said. "Anyone who fails to accept that and acknowledge that is simply out of touch with reality. We keep attempting to apply a Cure Violence Band-Aid to an open and hemorrhaging wound.”

News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson, a former police officer, said the solution to the uptick in violence will require more than arrests.

“You cannot arrest your way out of this problem. You can put all the people in jail that you want, until you have something that’s going to be kind of proactive and you’re consistent with it, it’s never going to work,” Jefferson said. “You’ve got to have policemen active in the community. You’ve got to have your police department as a liaison to some young people to try to head off some of this stuff before it happens.”

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.