Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Expensive Sports Security Shortchanging At-Risk Kids

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Expensive Sports Security Shortchanging At-Risk Kids

Article excerpt

Byline: TONYAA WEATHERSBEE

If anyone out there needs yet another example of how crime shackles struggling communities, they need look no more than what's going on with the Youth Intramural Sports League.

The sports league, part of the Jacksonville Journey anti-crime initiative, is geared toward steering teenagers in some of Jacksonville's toughest neighborhoods off the street corners and into the parks - where an array of activities, ranging from basketball to swimming, as well as some mentors, await them.

That's a great thing. But what's not so great is the price tag; a price tag that does more to put money into the pockets of the police than put youths on a positive track.

Officials from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office recently told The Times-Union that they can't spare regular patrol officers to oversee the eight parks where the league programs will be held, so they must pay officers overtime.

Problem is, the overtime costs are on track to devour nearly two-thirds of the $386,979 that is supposed to be spent on those young people.

That's too much to pay for security. And worse, there's been too little outrage about it.

There's been little outrage, I believe, because many of the people who live in the neighborhoods where league activities are being held are so shell-shocked by crime that few are willing to question whether the police are making extra cash at the cost of shortchanging their children.

And Jacksonville Journey officials are caught in the middle; they don't want to risk tarnishing their efforts if a youth is hurt in one of their programs because they were too lax on security.

So they let this expensive arrangement slide.

I can see how this happens, though. This happens because whenever certain areas, rightly or wrongly, are defined by criminality and pathology, it makes it easier for those issues to be exploited.

So instead of community leaders rallying volunteers to provide the needed security, or seeking out other means of churches to provide volunteers or to help with or demanding that the local Sheriff's Office find a way to reduce the overtime costs so that more children will be able to participate in these sports leagues, they underestimate their own power by accepting the notion that only the police can handle any problem that might arise. …

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