'We'll Be Bringing the Dialogue-to-Action Concept to the Neighborhoods'; the Sheriff Explains How Jacksonville Will Benefit from Other Cities' Programs

Article excerpt

Finding ways to reduce murders and other violent crimes can entail a mix of approaches, from hard-nosed law enforcement to community activism.

One of the most successful approaches in recent years was initiated in Chicago, where murders dropped 29 percent from 2000 to 2004. Several new programs initiated by the Chicago Police Department during those years may have contributed to the decline.

Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford recently announced initiatives designed to drive down a murder rate that is the highest per-capita in Florida. We asked the sheriff to comment on what is happening in other regions and whether some of those things will work in Jacksonville.

Q. In Chicago, which has shown strong success in cutting its murder rate, police use specialized teams that can be rapidly deployed to investigate instances of violence. Does the new Operation Safe Streets task force in Jacksonville have that capability?

We have task forces that rapidly deploy every day -- our juvenile intervention team, our Operation Showdown team, our aggravated-battery unit -- and the more obvious ones such as marine, air, mounted and SWAT.

We recognized that not all people intended to be murdered actually die, so we created the aggravated-battery unit last year. This group of homicide detectives was charged with the responsibility of investigating all these incidents, regardless of their outcome, to solve the crime that, although not a murder, may have had a murderous intent. Many people involved in crimes where a murder is not the result are oftentimes the same suspects we're looking at in other crimes. That's all in our databases, too.

Q. Will it focus on murder cases only?

It won't do to simply try to arrest our way out of the problem. There has to be a murder and gun-crimes prevention focus. In Operation Safe Streets, we will focus on stopping criminals from carrying and brandishing guns. This is a way to prevent a murder from eventually occurring. When we know these crimes to be born of a dispute, which we know to be the case in all except a very few of [those] to date, our outcomes will be best if we remove the gun from the equation. That is why the community involvement -- talking to police, calling us with tips about criminals carrying guns -- is so crucial to this effort.

Q. Chicago police also began a series of community forums to break down barriers and strengthen relations with communities in the city. Topics included race relations and multiculturalism. Would that be useful in Jacksonville?

Under Operation Safe Streets, we'll be bringing the dialogue-to-action concept to the neighborhoods that we want to most impact. These are discussion groups, held right in the businesses and community centers near the people with whom we want to develop better working relationships. They are educational, and discussions will include issues such as race, poverty, and the challenges and opportunities we are all facing -- police and citizens. This is a process to build trusting relationships.

Q. At shootings or other violent-crime scenes in Jacksonville, are officers and detectives finding people willing or reluctant to provide information? …


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