Jacksonville: River City? Or Gotham City?

Jacksonville: River City? Or Gotham City?

Words By Ambar Ramirez and Carmen Macri

 

Dubbed the murder capital of Florida, Jacksonville is no stranger to crime. In 2020, Jacksonville saw the highest homicide rate since 2003 with 177. But with a brief glimpse of hope in 2021 in which homicide rates dropped to 130, the city of Jacksonville may be getting a grip on violent crime. According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office website, as of publication, there have only been 116 homicides reported. But with a few weeks left still left in the year, that number is expected to rise. And out of those 116 homicides, only half have been solved, leaving the rest as cold cases. 

 

It is also important to note that homicide and murder are not the same. Murders do not include justified actions such as self-defense, while homicides do. This means the number of homicides tends to be higher than the number of murders.

 

Unfortunately, many cases go unsolved due to a variety of reasons — no leads, lack of evidence, witness intimidation — one thing for certain is the main cause of death due to homicide in Jacksonville involves the use of a firearm. On Dec. 3, there was the senseless death of 13-year-old Prince Holland. After leaving football tryouts, Holland got a ride home with a 21-year-old football coach and four others all under 16 years old. Now, a memorial along Moncrief road west and New Kings road, marks the spot where the unprecedented drive-by shooting occurred, leaving one dead and two others hospitalized.  While JSO officials are actively investigating this incident, if anything, this crime goes to show the extent of violence that fills Jacksonville’s streets. 

 

The crime is shocking because of the manner in which it occurred, but even more so because of the age of the victim. According to a chart provided by “The Florida Times Union,” the average age of homicide victims in Jacksonville ranges from 18 to 29. In 2022, 11 homicide cases involved victims aged 17 or younger, including Holland.

 

In Jacksonville, 81.7% of the homicides reported have men as the victims, while 17.65% of victims were women. In terms of which race has the highest percentage of crimes committed against them, Blacks are victims of homicide three times as often as Whites.

 

This also highlights the areas and communities in Jacksonville that tend to have more crime. In the past, ZIP code 32209 (on the Northside) has been labeled one of the most violent and dangerous parts of the city, but things changed in 2022. According to News4Jax, the most homicides reported this year occurred in 32210. The explanation for this shift is vague, but it is noted the crimes in the latter ZIP code (on the Westside) are most likely tied to drugs. 

 

However, homicides aren’t the only crimes reported in Jacksonville. Between Nov. 28 and Dec. 4 alone, there were 715 crimes reported (and reported) in the city of Jacksonville. And out of the 715 crimes committed, 248 were larceny.

 

Larceny, Burglary and Robbery 

Larceny is the theft of personal items like motor vehicles, bicycles, etc. Anything that is taken without force or violence is considered larceny. Burglary, also called breaking and entering, is the entry into a building illegally with the intent to commit a crime. Robbery is the action of taking property unlawfully from a person or place by force or threat of force. Out of the 715 crimes reported between Nov. 28 and Dec. 4, 120 were reported burglaries and 14 were reported robberies. 

 

It is also during these months that burglary rates tend to rise in the state of Florida, which has a crime score of 81.5—twice the national average. Dare we blame the holidays for such incidents? Probably. But not just because families are leaving their houses unattended while they ski on snowy slopes but because there are families desperate enough to turn to crime to see a smile on their children’s faces come Christmas morning. 

 

Drugs and Alcohol Violations and DUIs

According to The National Transportation Safety Administration, drunk driving deaths went up more than 14% between 2019 and 2020. In 2019, Jacksonville was ranked one of the top three cities for deadliest DUI crashes and had the third highest per capita DUI fatalities in all of Florida, according to the Lawrence Law Group. In 2020, out of 24,436 reported car accidents, 420 of those accidents were due to the driver being impaired by drugs or alcohol. This year, during Thanksgiving weekend alone, JSO made 33 DUI arrests. Sheriff T.K. Waters said in a press conference that JSO will have a “renewed focus” on impaired driving. He then vowed to make the roads safer for the holiday season. “Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal and significantly increases the risk to every citizen on our roadways and our communities across Duval County,” Waters said.

 

Vandalism

When thinking of vandalism we often refer to Banksy and his infamous street art or graffiti that often has a positive effect on otherwise bland communities. But by definition, vandalism is the action of deliberately destructing or damaging public or private property. From Nov. 28 to Dec. 4, there were 54 incidents of vandalism reported in Jacksonville. 

 

In recent news, a certain farm has been a target of vandalism for three weeks. The White Harvest Farm located in Northwest Jacksonville has reported three instances of vandalism that have left the non-profit urban farm with broken pipes and a damaged irrigation system with damages totalling well over $10,000. Considering this non-profit is located in Moncrief, an area with not a lot of healthy food options, the damages to the farm can create a chain reaction of issues for the whole area and for families that depend on fresh produce. 

 

Assault

According to JSO’s online Crime Mapping program, 128 of the 715 crimes reported from Nov. 28 to Dec. 4 were assaults. Assault is commonly defined as any intentional act that causes a person to fear an attack or be imminently harmed, meaning not all of the assaults reported ended with any sign of actual harm. Simple assault can be charged as a misdemeanor while aggravated assault is commonly handled as a felony. 

 

Still, since assault is broad in terms of crime, it is one of the most common violent crimes. Especially when you factor in sexual assault. 

 

Sex Crimes/Sex Trafficking

There are more than 2,500 registered sexual predators and offenders in Duval County. It is hard to find the actual statistic on how many sex crimes have been committed in Jacksonville because victims of sexual assault often don’t report it to police, and if they do, it’s rare the case ever goes anywhere. Victims of sexual assault often wait to report the incident because they fear society’s reaction. The effects of the trauma can be short-term or last long after the incident. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts, is a common effect of sexual assault. 

WCJ (Women’s Center of Jacksonville) saw a 38% increase in sexual assault forensic exams conducted in October 2021 vs. October 2020, which could be positive news if it means more victims are coming forward.

In early August, Jacksonville’s FBI field office recovered seven sex trafficking victims and made three arrests against the attackers. The cases of nearly 50 more identified victims are still under investigation. Jacksonville is third in the state for human trafficking, and according to Voices for Florida, with Florida ranking third in the nation for reports of human trafficking. Children are being sold for sex in every county in Florida. 

 

These statistics change every day, meaning that there is no precise number to accurately depict the number of crimes committed here. Still, it does give insight into the state of crime in Jacksonville. And with the new year right around the corner, we asked our city officials what they intend to do to reduce crime come 2023. Here’s what they had to say.

 

Atlantic Beach Mayor Curtis Ford: “Atlantic Beach will continue to add police officers until we are fully staffed at 36. We typically have been adding two new positions per year to achieve this goal.”

 

“We’ve also explored Community Officer Policing Services (COPS) to create better communication/partnerships between ABPD [Atlantic Beach Police Department] and residents.”

 

“Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies that support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder and fear of crime.”

 

Green Cove Springs Mayor Matt Johnson:  Many of our recent crimes have been related to homeless persons. We just had one spit in the face of one of our patrol sergeants. Our department has just established a full-time community relations officer who will act as our homeless liaison. This officer, Josh Lee, has begun documenting the homeless people in the city and gathering information on resources that we can share with this segment of the population.

For a more comprehensive look on how we intend to respond to crime and other issues in 2023 (through 2028), please stay tuned for our 5-year strategic plan, which will be published in January.”

 

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry:  Mayor Lenny Curry’s media team directed us to a different media email, requested the deadline date and never responded again. 

 

Jacksonville Beach Mayor Chris Hoffman: “Recruiting, training and retaining police officers.  Like every industry right now, finding and keeping qualified candidates is a challenge. Retaining a well-trained, cohesive and effective department is fundamental.”

 

“Engaging technology where possible such as the camera system downtown and the newly implemented drone program. In cases of large events which are common at the beach, the cameras and drones give us extra eyes to assess and identify potential issues.”

 

“Great communication with our residents and businesses. Utilizing social media to communicate broadly and establishing one-on-one relationships with our business owners, especially in the downtown area, helps us stay on top of or even ahead of potential issues in the community.”

 

And lastly, “Involving the citizens through the Citizen Police Academy and the Citizens on Patrol program.”

 

Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook:

Public Information Deputy Andrew Ford called on behalf of Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook to respond. In regard to reducing crime for 2023, the Clay County Sheriff’s Department mentioned that instead of planning to reduce crime they are taking the angle of “fighting crime.” Ford also emphasized relying on community involvement. As the population in Clay County rises, so does crime. This means that it is not just in the hands of police to keep the community safe but in the hands of the community itself to take advantage of the resources provided by the department. Ford also mentioned the Saferwatch app, which is a powerful public safety and information tool that directly connects the department with citizens within Clay County.  “It takes all of us working together.”

 

Duval County Sheriff T.K. Waters: When we reached out about plans for reducing crime in 2023, T.K. Waters replied with no comment. We did receive this response from the JSO public information office: “Thanks for reaching out. Sheriff Waters is unavailable at this time.”

 

We also reached out to St. Johns County Sheriff Robert A. Hardwick official and received no response.

 

 

 

 

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