FHP will carry burden of JSO cuts

Response times to crashes likely to increase

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - To meet the city's needs, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is having to cut millions from its budget and eliminate several positions.

The Florida Highway Patrol says these cuts are putting more pressure on its department, doubling the number of crashes troopers will have to respond to.

Last year, FHP investigated about 4,000 auto accidents. Come 2013, it'll likely have to investigate 8,000.

"It's going to change what we do every day and how much we do," FHP Capt. Keith Gaston said. "We have a lot of issues. The main one is we have to figure out how we're going to cover 13-some-odd-thousand crashes that we're not used to covering with the Florida Highway Patrol."

With nearly 200 positions on the chopping block as part of the JSO budget next year, the sheriff has shifted patrol duties on 20 state roads in Duval County to FHP.

Roads like San Jose, Southside, University and Butler boulevards, and Emerson treet are just some of the few areas that will now fall under FHP enforcement.

FHP anticipates many of its calls will be on the Southside, from Atlantic Boulevard through Mandarin, where nearly one-third of all traffic accidents in Duval County are reported.

And with those extra responsibilities comes a change in response times.

"Our typical response time now is anywhere from 15-20 minutes," Gaston said. "I think the worst case scenario, it could go to 30 minutes."

The idea of waiting longer for help isn't exactly sitting well with drivers, who say these cuts compromise public safety.

"It's a pretty bad idea because people's lives are at stake," driver Tim Dolan said.

"I am financially hurting as well as everybody else, so we just can't have that happen. We have to be safe first," driver Lori Taylor said.

"I also have a concern with what's that do to the schedule for the officers out there. Are they going to be working overtime? Are they going to be more tired?" driver Mike Dolan said.

While troopers say they understand the frustration, they say their hands are tied and will remain committed to tackling this new challenge.

"Try to be patient," Gaston said. "We'll be there and get you done just as soon as we possibly can."

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