Police notice pattern of guns, drugs, gang members at Jacksonville-area vacation rentals

Detectives say people using local short-term rentals to throw parties

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – Police say they’re noticing a pattern of guns, drugs and gang members at Jacksonville-area vacation rentals.

Most recently, there was a takedown in Jacksonville Beach. Police say it is part of a plan to cut down on violent crime.

Photos show police and partygoers in the streets, several people in handcuffs and a large party at a home rented out as an Airbnb. It startled neighbors.

“More cars up and down both sides of the street. They would congregate in the yard and be really loud with their radios booming, coming and going and just really loud,” said a resident of the Jacksonville Beach neighborhood who wished to remain unnamed.

Police said they arrested four people, questioned many more, seized 14 illegally possessed firearms and confiscated narcotics. Police say several people at the party are documented gang members.

It’s the latest in a crackdown on violent crime in Duval County.

Detectives with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office had already been watching people who were at the party at the short-term rental on Sunday. And the Jacksonville Beach Police Department had gotten calls from the community. They teamed up to make this bust.

JSO Lt. Rickie Valentine said the bigger picture impact from busts like this is “to curb the violence in Jacksonville, but you continue to push down the shootings, to let the people know that if you’re out committing these felonious activities, we’re coming at you.”

Valentine and JSO Lt. Jordan Dowling worked the case for the Sheriff’s Office. They are part of the Crime Gun Intelligence Center, which tracks weapons used in crimes, repeat offenders and gangs.

“We were able to recover 14 guns from this residence. Those guns are now being examined, test fired and examined, by our firearms lab to see what’s the connection between these specific guns and crimes that have already occurred in Jacksonville,” Dowling said.

The guns are now in JSO’s ballistics lab, where investigators test fire them, looking for unique markings to link them to shootings.

“The responsible, legal gun owners are not the ones that we’re going after because they’re not the ones committing the violent crime,” Valentine said.

Last month, the I-TEAM showed covered the work of Jacksonville’s Violent Crime and Community Problems Response Units. They both worked hand in hand with Jacksonville Beach police officers for this case and another one a month ago when they arrested four people at another short-term rental. In August, according to police, a 32-year-old man was shot and killed at a party at a separate Jacksonville Beach Airbnb home.

News4JAX asked detectives whether more rental homes are under a microscope.

“Yeah, we have identified a pattern of people utilizing these vacation rentals, the short-term rentals, to throw parties, and have gatherings like this,” Dowling replied.

Airbnb is taking action too, with a spokesperson telling News4JAX:

“We take this situation very seriously and have no tolerance for this type of reported criminal activity. The booking guests associated with this incident have been removed from our platform and we are in contact with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to support their investigation.”

About the Author:

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