Jacksonville Sheriff: Gang-targeting strategies being deployed, more community engagement planned amid recent violence

Jacksonville, FL — Saying Jacksonville has seen enough senseless violence, especially in the last month, Sheriff Mike Williams and City officials say they’re working on some new initiatives to more specifically target Jacksonville’s crime problems and problem areas.

“We’ve got to step up our efforts to prevent these tragedies from occurring in the first place. And putting resources in the right place at the right times, doing the right things, can do that,” Williams says.

He says a small population in Jacksonville involved in gang activity is driving the majority of the violence we see. Those target populations and areas will now be getting a lot more attention.

“We’re gunna sharpen our focus on our street level enforcement of gangs and drugs and violence in those areas of town that are hit hardest,” he says.

While saying JSO will never have the manpower to staff every street, he says they will leverage the resources they have, like the ShotSpotter system that's in place, as a force multiplier. He says the "Real Time Crime Center" can also be a huge asset, although WOKV has previously reported that that is still weeks away, if the City Council signs on to the plan as part of Mayor Lenny Curry's $1.2 billion City budget proposal.

IN DEPTH:Jacksonville's $1.2 billion proposed budget

Williams says JSO will continue to work every day to make the streets safer, but he’s also developing an initiative to create more opportunity for the community to be engaged. He says a strong community relationship is integral to their work, citing community tips that were called in on many of the recent violent crimes.

“As a community, as a police agency, we all have a lot of work to do,” he says.

He says he’s also working with the business community and Crime Stoppers for something like a gun bounty program, specifically targeting people with illegal guns, not just the guns themselves.

“That convicted felon, that adjudicated juvenile who’s out carrying a gun because it’s part of his daily work. He’s a drug dealer, he’s a gang member, he shoots people as part of his daily routine. Those are the people that we need to focus on,” he says.

The idea of a gun buyback was raised, but Williams says that avenue is focused on people who don’t want their firearms, as opposed to criminals who will not willingly give theirs up.

There is no specific timeline for releasing details for this initiative.

This comes amid a wave of violence in Jacksonville, which most recently included the mass shooting at a video game tournament at the Landing, where two people were killed and ten others shot by a gunman, who then took his own life. A 16-year-old was recently arrested for a triple shooting that followed the Raines-Lee High School football game, killing a 19-year-old. Also recently, 7-year-old Heidy Rivas-Villanueva was killed when she was hit by a stray bullet, following a robbery-gone-wrong near where she was sitting in a car with her father. Three people police say were directly involved in the shooting and two alleged accomplices have been arrested.

Williams says the arrests show it is clear JSO can catch the criminals, but more needs to be done on prevention.

LISTEN: News 104.5 WOKV, Hot 99.5, Power 106.1, and Action News Jax present "Stop the Violence"

As JSO tries these strategies, the City focuses on where to put funding to address violence. The Mayor's budget proposal includes the RTCC, and the City Council has now tacked on $300,000 for small grants for community groups and nonprofits already working in these problem areas. Curry has additionally set aside $50,000 in executive reserves to use for the same project, with the hope that providing more resources to the people who are already in the trenches and well connected in these neighborhoods can start to have a bigger impact.

Curry's overall City budget proposal and the grant enhancement by the City Council are still pending approval ahead of the start of the next fiscal year, October 1st.

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