Mayor Lenny Curry would like the people of Jacksonville to understand these three points.
1. Random violent crime rarely happens in Jacksonville.
2. Most of the violence involves young men, mostly in loosely organized gangs, victimizing each other.
3. Slowing this violence will require continued collaboration from the mayor, the sheriff and the state attorney. And it will require buy-in from the entire community.
These points were made in a private meeting with Times-Union Editorial Page Editor Mike Clark.
During that 30-minute meeting Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams and State Attorney Melissa Nelson described the programs they are using to stem murderous violence that has long plagued Jacksonville. As this Editorial Page revealed over a decade ago, Duval County has long led Florida in its per capita murder rate.
Williams told a meeting of Downtown Vision Inc. that as he travels the country he rarely sees this level of collaboration among mayor, sheriff and state attorney.
He said that about 1,000 young men are responsible for 40 percent of the violence in this city. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office knows who they are. And they are meeting many of the young men, often one-on-one at their homes. So far about 330 of the 1,000 young men have received this message.
Many of these meetings involve respected members of the community such as faith leaders or community activists. The message is that if you use a gun, the JSO will put you in prison. In return, services are offered to provide the young men with a way out of the street-level illegal drug trade and gang membership.
The object is simple: stop the shootings.
This “hammer and hope” approach has long been used successfully in many cities around the nation via a program from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Another factor is building up the numbers of officers in JSO to the point that they can do real community policing and not just run from call to call. All of the 180 new officers should be trained and on the street by next spring, Williams said.
Nelson is taking the lead on another program that has succeeded in lowering violence. It’s called the Cure Violence Health Model. It originated in Chicago and has been implemented successfully in such cities as Kansas City, Baltimore, San Antonio and New Orleans.
The Cure Violence program uses a public health model, viewing violence like an epidemic. There are three components:
1. Interrupt transmission. Trained people with respect in the community identify and mediate conflicts, often between rival gangs.
2. Reduce the risk in the highest-risk areas. Workers use their trust with high-risk people to develop relationships.
3. Change community norms. Every shooting needs a response. Workers organize a response in which community members express their objections to the shooting. In Jacksonville, the Shot Spotter system alerts JSO when gunfire occurs. It’s a sad testimony that only 20 percent of gunfire is reported to the police.
This Cure Violence program will require funding and trained workers who have the respect of the community.
“Our message is come help us,” Williams said, “because we’re not going to be successful unless you come help us. Someone with credibility in the community needs to tell them what they’re doing is wrong.”
Curry said he has identified a fund in which the city can raise private philanthropic dollars for such a program.
Just as Curry, Williams and Nelson have a partnership, they emphasized that dealing with the violence will require a buy-in from all of Jacksonville.
The Kids Hope Alliance may be able to reach some of these people at young ages because evidence is that some young children are already being captured and desensitized to the violence.
Dedicated continued funding will be needed. Philanthropy has a role in seeding a program but only government has the resources to scale p services for the long term.
Jacksonville has watched other cities embrace anti-violence programs and prove their worth.
It’s time for this city to put its money where its rhetoric is.