JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Jacksonville's mayor says he wants to keep his campaign promise to make the city safer, and is now asking for 100 new police officers in the budget he is presenting to City Council this morning.
In an exclusive one-on-one interview, Mayor Lenny Curry sat down with Channel 4's Mary Baer to explain why he's asking for 100 officers to be added to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and how he plans to pay for it.
Mayor wants 100 additional police officers
"You have to have the right number of police officers in uniform and the bad guys have to know, we're not going to tolerate this," Curry told Mary.
By adding new officers to the force, he explained he is fulfilling his commitment to the people of Jacksonville.
"Public safety has been my top priority. It's what I promised the city of Jacksonville in the campaign. We talked about, I talked about, the 147 police officers that have been cut by the previous administration. I'm committed to restoring those cuts," the mayor explained to Mary. "We have to get the police force back to where it was. It was decimated."
When Mary asked Curry if pushing for the specific number of "100" officers would catch people's attention, he said the city needs this.
"We need boots on the ground, but it also demonstrates my seriousness, my commitment to this issue. We're not gonna give up , we are gonna remain resilient, relentless and committed to making sure that the Sheriff's Office has the resources that they need to make sure that we can make all of our neighborhoods safe."
"What makes you think that you will be successful at cutting down crime in this city when previous mayors have also tried? What makes you different?" Mary asked.
"I mean, I can only speak for myself. I go to bed at night thinking about this. I wake up in the morning thinking about it, thinking about young people, thinking about families and neighborhoods, so, I'm focused on it. I'm committed to the resources. It's not a one-time thing where we do one thing in one budget and we say, okay, we're gonna fund this and then we go away and hopefully we get results," he told Mary. "Everybody in this city -- public safety figures, citizens, city council, families -- know that I am focused on this and am not going away on this issue."
Curry added, "We don't have enough police officers, men and women on the street, and if we're gonna expect good results, we need to make sure they have the manpower to do their jobs."
Mayor wants to fund new officers with pension solution
Mayor Curry is now halfway through his term, and he has been talking about adding more officers from the very start. He said, with his first two budgets, 80 police officers were funded.
Now, he credits the city's long-standing pension crisis being solved this year, as a way to fund the 100 additional officers he's asking for in his new budget.
"Had we not solved it [pension], we would be facing significant cuts in this budget. There would be no additional police officers, there would be none of the equipment that I am going to be announcing, there would be none of the infrastructure that I am going to be announcing," he explained to Mary. "So thank you to the people of Jacksonville for walking that road with me and solving the pension problem."
While it has appeared that city council is not a "yes" council for the mayor, he said he believes he will ultimately get council's approval for the new officers.
"Look, they're gonna question what this means, that's their job as the legislative body," he said. "I want results faster, I wanna see the violent crime and the nightly shootings drop faster than what we're seeing it."
City violence is personal to Mayor Curry
Jacksonville's mayor recalled to Mary certain city crimes and personal experiences that have stayed with him, and they have been top of mind during his planning process to add more officers. One of those crimes was the shooting death of 22-month-old Aiden McClendon.
"Early in my term, that was, that continues frankly, to be a dark day," he said.
Curry also recalled something that happened while he was campaigning for office -- something that really hit close to home for him.
"In the campaign, I spent a lot of time in the neighborhoods, continue to spend time in the neighborhoods, but I knocked on someone's door and met at the time an 11-year-old. And, he answered the door and we started to talk about baseball and football, and gosh, I have a son the same age. And then it rolled off of his tongue that he saw someone get shot right in front of his house the night before, and it hit me like a brick. I was a candidate at the time, and I thought my goodness, my own children will hope, probably never experience that. No child should ever experience that."
Help for at-risk youth
Mayor Curry told Mary that he speaks with his team every single day about the city's children and speaks frequently about this with Sheriff Mike Williams as well. He said not only is it important to put more officers on the street, it's also important for the city to step up for at-risk children.
"I'm going to present to the city council a reform package that reforms the Children's Commission and the Jacksonville Journey in a way that is focused on results for at-risk youth. We have to make sure that we're investing in these young people when they're young, and that we're following them through and keeping up with them to make sure that they know that they can get an education and that they can get a job," said the mayor. "Government can't do all of it, there's no question, but we have a role and the Journey programs were also cut dramatically -- at the same time the police officers were cut. Call it a perfect storm if you will, a cocktail for really bad results, and that's what we've seen."
Curry added, the city would not only fund organizations providing children's programs, it would also reform them in a way so they stay focused on the right kids and be held accountable for results.
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