Jax Beach adds 4 new officers to downtown area

25 percent of police calls last year were in that area

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. - The Jacksonville Beach City Council unanimously approved a proposal to add four more full-time police officers.

The mayor of Jacksonville Beach proposed adding four new full-time police officers to the downtown area of the beach where most of the bars and restaurants are in hopes of preventing crime.

The area can get packed, especially on weekends during the summer. And with the beach, bars and restaurants often slammed, it sometimes means more crime.

Some beachgoers are in favor of adding more officers, which would cost about $400,000 the first year.

"You need police officers everywhere you go," beachgoer Tyrone Turner said.

"Hey, Jacksonville Beach, if they've got the money," beachgoer Edward Friedhoff said.

Others are opposed.

"I think there are plenty of police officers," beachgoer James Bowen said. "You can't walk around without them bothering you down here."

"When we have the influx of visitors on the weekend, it could be 10,000 or it could be 100,000 during the festival," Mayor Charlie Latham said. "So it's important for us to have the resources downtown."

The four new police officers will patrol the strip near the pier and the bandshell.

"The money is there," Latham said. "We're not going to be taking money from anybody other than the community redevelopment agency, and that money already exists."

Jacksonville Beach has been in the news lately for the wrong reasons. Earlier this month, a man reported being carjacked and kidnapped after the Springing the Blues Festival.

Last year, video of a brawl on Memorial Day went viral, and recently a popular blog labeled the city one of the most dangerous suburbs in America.

According to police records, the area is busy and requires a lot of extra help and overtime hours. Officers were called more than 48,500 times last year, and more than 25 percent of those calls were in the small downtown district. It's also where more than half of all arrests came from.

City Councilman Keith Doherty, who runs Lynch's Irish Pub with his family, said he'll vote in support of the mayor's idea.

"I don't think it will be a hindrance," he said. "To some people, Jacksonville Beach has a little bit of a (public relations) and image problem. But certainly extra police will help, in my view. If people feel secure, they're more likely to stay around and spend money, they're more likely to visit out here, they're more likely to stay in the hotels."

Latham said his proposal isn't because of the "bad PR" of late. He said he doesn't think the beach is a dangerous place at all, but when he ran for mayor, he campaigned to increase the police force to be more proactive against crime.

There are currently 61 officers on the police force. The new officers would mostly be on foot or on Segways, on the ground talking to the people, Latham said.

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