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2019 was Jacksonville’s deadliest year in decades

Jacksonville had a lot of murders and homicides in 2019.

With 2019 finally over, we can take a look back at some of the final homicide statistics from the colossally bad year for Florida’s largest city. 

While it’s still possible police may discover more homicides that occurred in 2019, increasing these numbers even higher, as of the end of New Year’s Eve, Jacksonville had seen 158 homicides, the highest number since the Times-Union began keeping track in 2006.

We obviously don’t know why Jacksonville’s homicides have been rising or why in 2019 it continued to rise.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said last month that crime rates fall because of police efforts, but Jacksonville is spending more on police than ever before. The city increased the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office budget to $439 million last fiscal year and nearly half a billion dollars this year.

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Last month, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said he would continue to invest in “crime-fighting programs.” Along with increasing funding for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, he has also advocated for funding children’s programming through the Kids Hope Alliance. And Cure Violence, which tries to treat crime through a public health approach rather than a law-enforcement approach, began in June. Cure Violence officials have said that despite the high homicide rate, there would’ve been even more fatal shootings if not for its interventions.

“I continue to work with the sheriff and the state attorney consistently to reduce crime in Jacksonville,” Curry said. “I rely on our law enforcement experts and continue to provide them with the resources they need.”

″... They are making progress, but unfortunately, it doesn’t happen overnight. Public safety is my top priority, and I will continue to provide the funding and resources required to make a difference.”

The longest period of time without a homicide in 2019 was 21 days from Oct. 18 to Nov. 7. With the exception of those three weeks, the entire year saw more homicides than normal, when compared to the median rolling 30-day average of homicides from 2006 to 2019.

The Times-Union’s analysis only looks at homicides in the city limits of Jacksonville and Baldwin, excluding homicides at the Beaches, which have their own police forces.

Jacksonville’s number of homicides, when counted on a rolling 365-day average, hit their lowest point in 2011 and 2012, and they remained below the 14-year norm until 2016. Since 2016, the number of homicides has been consistently above the 14-year median, and in the last two years in particular, it’s jumped.

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We don’t yet know what the final number of murders will be for Jacksonville or Duval County until later in the year. As of today, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said it had counted 130 murders, but there are still more than a dozen homicides that haven’t been classified yet.

The last time Duval County saw that many was in 1991, when the county reported 131 murders.

Murders and homicides are not the same thing. It’s complicated, but for statistical purposes, murders include the intentional killing of a human. Homicides include murders but also include killings through negligence. Homicides do not include justifiable killings, such as self-defense.

This statistical definition is different from the legal definition of murder. In Florida, for example, defendants are charged with murder if someone dies during the commission of certain crimes, even if the person charged with murder didn’t actually kill the other person. For example, if police accidentally shot and killed an innocent bystander while trying to apprehend a robber, the robber would be charged with murder. Florida also classifies drug overdoses as murders. For statistical purposes, Florida and the federal government don’t count those as murders.

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Even making the most conservative estimates — assuming none of the pending homicides are classified as murders and discounting any that occurred outside of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office’s jurisdiction — the murder rate would still be the highest it’s been since 2007, with more than 13 murders per 100,000 people.

Still, that’s a far cry from the violent days of 1989 and 1990, when the murder rate peaked at almost double that rate, with 24 and 25 murders per 100,000 people.

We still have more questions about 2019′s homicides, and we’ll be doing complete stories in the days and weeks ahead. For example, we don’t yet know why the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is handling an Atlantic Beach murder-suicide, instead of the Atlantic Beach Police Department. We don’t include that killing in our data, since we limit it to just Jacksonville and Baldwin.

Here's what we do know so far.

For one: the increase in Jacksonville’s homicides is entirely driven by male victims. The number of female victims actually decreased from 2018. In 2019, 132 men died from homicides in Jacksonville, compared to 99 in 2018.

While Jacksonville’s overall homicide rate is higher than elsewhere in Florida, the homicide rate among black men is even higher. One in 6,151 Jaxsons were killed in 2019 compared to one in 1,386 black men.

Out of the 158 homicide victims last year, 100 of them, or 63 percent, were black men. Black men make up just 14 percent of Jacksonville’s population.

In 32209, 95.5 percent of residents are African-American, and for decades, the Zip code has also had the most homicide victims in Jacksonville. In 2019 alone, there were 27 homicides in 32209, accounting for 17 percent of all homicides, despite making up just 4 percent of Jacksonville residents.

As a percent of all homicide victims, that’s actually lower than past years. Back in 2016, nearly one in four homicide victims were killed in 32209.

Despite the increase in killing, 2019 saw fewer multiple homicides. There were four double homicides last year, compared to six double homicides and one triple homicide last year.

If you have any questions or thoughts about Jacksonville’s homicides, I’d love to hear them. Email me at APantazi@jacksonville.com.

As we pray for a more peaceful decade in 2020, The Florida Times-Union will continue to cover homicides and murders in Jacksonville.

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