How much gang activity is in Jacksonville?

Man killed by police Tuesday said to be in Westside gang

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Investigators say Tuesday's fatal police-involved shooting highlights the dangers officers face each day. And it shows the presence of gangs in the community.

Detectives say 23-year-old John Parker (pictured, below) was killed in the scuffle after they say he tried to shoot at police. They say he was a known member of the 103rd Street Certified Head Busters, one of the area's most well-known gangs.

Parker's friends deny he was a member and say police were setting him up.

"But gangs, I never believed in the gangs. Nah, man, he's not even from the Westside," Todd Hoffman, Parker's friend, said.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has a special unit devoted to monitoring gang activity. Investigators say they have certain criteria helping them identify members.

"Markings on your body such as tattoos, confidential informants identifying you, us observing you, crimes that have been committed," JSO spokeswoman Melissa Bujeda said.

Police wouldn't go into the details of why they suspected Parker was in a gang, nor would they say how bad a problem gangs are in the area. They said doing so would interfere with their investigations.

But Channel 4 crime analyst Ken Jefferson says gangs are real in the River City, and they are responsible for a lot of crimes throughout the area. He said police are doing their best to destroy them.

"You don't hear about a whole lot of gang activity here in Jacksonville, and we're fortunate that we don't," Jefferson said.

Experts say gangs are looking to get new members from local middle and high schools, so to fight that off, the community must start early by showing children that crime doesn't pay. That's one of the focuses of the local nonprofit Project SOS.

"They're starting early, and the earlier they can get them, the more they can train them in that certain mindset, and a lot of time, the more vigilant the kids become," said Marc Dickerson, of Project SOS. "So we try to combat that by getting them early and teaching them the healthy alternatives." 

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