As gunfire rang out in multiple parts of the city over the last two days of April, the first third of 2019 has become the most violent on record in 13 years with 51 homicides reported by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
This is the most since 2006, when there were 56 killings in a year that ended with 132, according to Times-Union records. That trend appeared to continue in 2007, with 151 for the year and 45 reported as of April 30.
The Sheriff’s Office did point out the tally for murders is less at 41, with murder described as “the unlawful killing of another person.” That is opposed to homicides that include justifiable, excusable and accidental killings.
But Sheriff Mike Williams was not available to comment about what’s continuing to be a concern in Jacksonville despite all of the efforts and attention. He did recently tout how valuable new technology like ShotSpotter, which targets gunshots in crime-ridden parts of town, leads officers to crimes faster. He also said new equipment to send forensic results through the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ NIBIN (National Integrated Ballistic Information Network) to track spent shells found at crime scenes can track the gun and sometimes its user.
Mayor Lenny Curry’s spokeswoman, Nikki Kimbleton, said he has always stated “one violent crime is one too many,” so these latest numbers reflect more work to do in prevention, intervention and enforcement.
“In June, Jacksonville will locally implement the Cure Violence process,” Kimbleton said. “It’s a proven, neighborhood-based violence prevention strategy. Cure Violence, in conjunction with our investments in more police, law enforcement technology and youth intervention, demonstrate that public safety in Jacksonville is, and will remain, the mayor’s first priority.”
When told of the number of reported homicides so far this year, Beverly McClain said the city has a big problem. She began Families of Slain Children at 2212 N. Myrtle Ave. (fosci.org) in 2006 to help other families dealing with their children’s violent deaths after her son Andre was killed. She emotionally predicted “more are coming,” and everyone should be held accountable for them.
“Is anybody hearing this? Is anybody seeing this? We have to wake up. Jacksonville needs to wake up,” McClain said. “We have a major problem and they can’t sheriff their way out. They talk about the Jaguars and the Landing but do nothing to put money in the neighborhoods where it will help and save lives. Sometimes you want to walk away, but you can’t.”
Times-Union records on Jacksonville homicide totals dating back to 2003 show the worst overall year for violent deaths was 2007 with 151. The lowest numbers were in 2011 with 86, then 96 recorded the year before. The past three years have been more violent, with 121 homicides reported in 2016, 138 in 2017 and 125 last year.
The Times-Union’s numbers vary slightly from the Sheriff’s Office, which includes a couple of old cases for the year they were ruled a homicide, such as a shaken-baby death that took months to determine or an individual who died months after being shot. The Times-Union includes those for the year it occurred. Both databases do not include homicides outside the city’s jurisdiction such as the Beaches.
The violent end to 2019′s first four months began at 7:40 p.m. Monday when officers and rescue personnel were dispatched to the 8000 block of Susie Street on the Westside in reference to an unresponsive person. The incident report said someone walked into the home just north of 103rd Street and found a woman dead inside. Foul play is suspected, but no cause was released.
This was the second homicide investigated on the same block this year. Steven Howard Cleary, 42, was found dead Jan. 26 in a U-Haul van. Investigators said it appeared he had been shot while driving, then crashed into a fence.
The last day of April hadn’t even dawned when officers were called Tuesday to the 1300 block of West First Street where a woman was shot multiple times inside a home but still alive, the Sheriff’s Office said. Little information was released, although the incident report said a juvenile or juveniles were involved. Then just before 11 a.m., officers were called to Brackridge Boulevard and Parr Court to find a man shot in the stomach. The victim called police himself and was being treated for non-life threatening injuries, with no other details provided.
As for Cure Violence program referred to by the mayor’s spokeswoman, the City Council approved almost $750,000 to fund it on April 11. The group will launch initiatives in Northwest Jacksonville using a public-health approach that treats violence as a contagion that can be controlled, officials said. Community members who have their own criminal records will become quasi-caseworkers and work with families and victims to stop any potential retaliation.
For McClain, programs like this cannot come soon enough to help children.
“We have to make the streets safe for our grandchildren. We put money on everything else,” McClain said. “Young people need jobs, more jobs, and offer them more money. They can make $10 every minute on the corner. I commend the sheriff and mayor for what they do, but there has to be something more they can do.”
Anyone with information in any crime can contact the Sheriff’s Office at (904) 630-0500 or leave an anonymous tip and be eligible for a possible reward with First Coast Crime Stoppers by calling (866) 845-8477 (TIPS).
Dan Scanlan: (904) 359-4549