Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Police Make Presence Known in High-Crime Neighborhoods; Their High-Profile Patrols Are Part of Jacksonville's Plan to Quell the City's Horrific Violent Crime Problem

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Police Make Presence Known in High-Crime Neighborhoods; Their High-Profile Patrols Are Part of Jacksonville's Plan to Quell the City's Horrific Violent Crime Problem

Article excerpt

Byline: KEN LEWIS

Two days after 8-year-old DreShawna Davis was shot to death in Riverview, a neighborhood resident's e-mail captured the sense of fear and frustration.

"We keep everything locked up and feel like we live in our own prison," Cindy Roman wrote to Mayor John Peyton. "I have been told that the community has to get involved, but who will get out in the street with murderers and drug dealers to tell them to stop?"

About two weeks later, North Jacksonville is crawling with law enforcement authorities. An extra 70 police officers are patrolling the streets in an overtime-fueled thrust at reducing crime. Officers such as Steve Rhatigan are working long hours and entering different zones, trying to improve contacts and sniff out criminals.

In neighborhoods where jaded residents sometimes distrust authority and law-abiders hide, the reception to the increased police presence is mixed. People describe a world of retaliation and fear, where police arrive only after damage is done. Nevertheless, they expressed hope for change and a sense of awe over the influx of officers.

"They're rolling deep," said C. Felton, a security guard at the Shannon Ridge Apartments near Edgewood Avenue South. He was being questioned by Rhatigan, who went to the neighborhood Monday after a woman called police over a dispute with another woman.

The victim declined to comment to the Times-Union, under watch by numerous residents as three officers answered the call. Her neighbors declined to comment as well, although they nodded emphatically with wide eyes when asked if they had seen an increased police presence lately.

Only the security guard was willing to talk - and he refused to give his first name.

"The police are doing all right," Felton said. "I like their presence better than anything. ... The bigger the show, the better."

As Rhatigan drove away, he acknowledged the unspoken uneasiness.

"They get nervous," he said.

Some residents waved and smiled as he drove past and he greeted them. Improved relationships and increased presence are the key to making improvements, Rhatigan said. He gave out his phone number so people could call in a more private setting.

"You just have to be consistently in there, trying to know the good people," he said, adding it also meant catching the bad ones.

Rhatigan cruised through Ken Knight Drive, a circle of row houses prone to criminal activity lately. He parked by a basketball court, getting out to address a group of teens hanging out on the bleachers. They weren't playing basketball because none of them had a ball. One boy flashed what he half-jokingly said was a gang sign, and Rhatigan chided him for it.

"Why do you think that's a good thing?" he asked.

The boy hung his head and didn't answer.

Resident Eleanor Braziel was full of answers, but she focused on one: leaving. …

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