Jacksonville: The Next Detroit?

March 11, 2008 58 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

What a shocking statistic to have learned recently while New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in town as part of his national convention on curbing violent crime and reducing illegal guns. Here it is: Jacksonville has only 10% of the population of NYC, yet experiences 25% of their murders! Wow. It's no wonder that Sheriff John Rutherford recently indicated the city was teetering on the brink of lawlessness, stating If we don't turn this thing around, we could be the next Detroit.

While crimes across the board seem to be up from levels a few years ago, our inability to prevent violent crime is what attracts the most (negative) attention. Of violent crimes, homicides capture the most headlines. From 2005 to 2006, the murder rate increased almost 21%. The number of reported rapes increased over 15% in that same time period. While the numbers of rapes for 2007 aren't available yet on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website, we do know that murders increased 10% to 152 in 2007. Where are we today? As of three weeks ago, there had been 21 homicides in Duval County, keeping us on pace to match our record-breaking numbers from last year.

And it's not just murders. Increased rapes, burglaries and record traffic fatalities are all pushing us towards becoming the "next Detroit".

There are thoughts and opinions coming from all directions about how to solve the violent crime rate here in Murderville, Florida. Everyone knows that the problem is being studied to death - pardon the pun. We have Jacksonville Community Council studying the problem. We have the Blueprint for Prosperity that ended last year. So, now we have started the Jacksonville Journey Task Force. And let's not forget the recent $1 million federal grant our Sheriff's Office recently received to study new strategies for combating violent crime.

Part of the problem may be that criminals here in northeast Florida know that they have a pretty good chance of not getting caught - more so than if they were to commit the same crime in any other major metropolitan area in Florida. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the "clear rate" - that is the percentage of crimes that are solved - was much lower here than most other comparable metro areas in the state for the 2006 year. Only the Miami-Dade area had a barely worse "clear rate" of crimes. See the table below...

County - Crime Clear Rate

Duval - 16.7%
Hillsborough (Tampa) - 24.5%
Sarasota - 25.2%
Volusia - 23.0%
Orange - 19.9%
Palm Beach - 18.7%
Broward (Ft Lauderdale) - 19.4%
Miami-Dade - 15.9%

So what do we do?

Let's start off with what not to do. With the exception of the law enforcement strategies study that the federal government is funding, let's stop studying. As history has proven, it is an inevitable waste of time and only makes for a nice press release. Next, throwing money at the problem is not the solution. The Jacksonville Journey task force would have you believe that what we need is a new tax to expand the police payroll further. More money for more officers is not the solution. According to another recent publication, Sheriff Rutherford is seeking new officers to spread throughout the city - rather than just focusing them in the high-crime areas. Which leads us to our first solution to curbing violent crime.

#1 - Use current police force to target high-crime areas relentlessly
By any measure, Sheriff Rutherford has found some success with his "Operation Safe Streets" program that increased police presence in the high-crime neighborhoods and reached out to the citizens in these communities in late 2006. By one measure, the program decreased the murder rate by 38% and by another measure it decreased the murder rate by 23% over the time period that it was executed. Either way, it was definitely a winning solution. This is the same strategy which Rudy Giuliani used successfully and Bloomberg continues to use in NYC, where they decreased the murder rate by 25% last year.

Unfortunately, this "focus" strategy apparently was abandoned by Rutherford because he has been reluctant to move officers again from low-crime areas because it means higher response times in these areas. While burglaries may be occurring in higher numbers in the low-crime areas, it is not the burglaries that are transforming Jacksonville into the most deadly city in the state. Address the bleeding wounds first and then you can deal with the scratches.

#2 - Better law enforcement training

We know this is not a politically-correct idea, but it needs to be said. Something is wrong with our police force when we are only clearing 15.7% of our crimes. We think there is room for improvement here and are thus encouraged and actually hopeful for the IMPLEMENTATION (this is key) of the results of the federal grant study on how to best combat violent crime.

#3 - Leadership from the top, down

Lastly, this truly needs to be the primary focus of the mayor. It needs to be spear-headed and owned by the mayor. He needs to stop shucking the blame off to the sheriff, as he has done several times in the past. Both are elected officials and responsible for the welfare of the city. If you ask Mr. Peyton what he is most proud of, he may tell you it is his Book Club that encourages children to read (at least that is what he told the media about 9 months ago). That tells us something about where our mayor's priorities have been during this period of record-breaking escalating violence. While teaching children to read is a good thing (that we thought we were paying our teachers to do, not the mayor), it is not the "great" thing before the city now. Far too often our mayor is letting his pursuit of a "good" get in the way of accomplishing the "great".

Remembering back to college, we were only allowed to study for so long before we actually had to show up at class and take the test. The time for studying has long ago passed. It is now time to show up to class. The test has been waiting for us for some time now.