Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Terrible Murder Rate Requires a Plan

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Terrible Murder Rate Requires a Plan

Article excerpt

Jacksonville has fallen into bad habits regarding its state-leading murder rate.

The final stats for 2014 were released in mid-year when Jacksonville was in the midst of turnover in the Mayor's Office and City Council.

Somehow, the fact that Duval County retained its shameful title of Florida's murder capital with room to spare was lost in the shuffle.

What little progress that was made in the last decade in addressing the murder rate has been lost in the recession and the city's financial crisis.

The murder rate needs to return to the top of the list of the city's pressing priorities.

What about human lives? What about the 96 lives that were lost to murder last year and the fact that murders are running at the same pace this year?

As of early last week, Duval County had recorded 70 murders this year vs. 69 at the same time last year.

The city has largely fallen back into accepting an unacceptable situation.

As a city we have lived with our high rate for too long.

We got this way because of Jacksonville's two cities.

One city, largely suburban, lives a reasonably safe life.

The other city lives with constant violence, gunfire and murders.

Local attorney Hank Coxe expressed outrage about our murder rate in an email: "So - 67 counties in our state - we win But what is terrifying is that it isn't close. Hands down. Go figure."

In fact, if No. 2 Miami-Dade County had Duval's murder rate, Miami-Dade would have had 281 murders last year, not 212.

That's how shockingly bad this has become.

Obviously, what we have been doing in Jacksonville is not working.

Coxe says, "I contend that our criminal justice system exists to serve itself. It does not serve the public. It does not serve the people they claim to be serving."

The inertia of these bad habits is strong.

This lack of local awareness has shown up on various fronts. A year ago this editorial page wrote that Nashville, the model for Jacksonville's consolidated city, had produced a dramatic and consistent decline in murders. Other cities have been equally successful. But there has been a depressing lack of interest in looking beyond our county's borders for success stories.

Michael Hallett, a criminologist from the University of North Florida, warns that another of Jacksonville's bad habits is to see murder as strictly a police problem. It's much more than that, which the Jacksonville Journey sought to address.

The Journey, however, never reached maturity, chopped off at the knees by a financial crisis and a former mayor who never took it to the next level.

Hallett said Jacksonville needs permanent programs with consistent funding and accountability, sort of like the Children's Commission. He's thinking of programs for ex-offenders and single mothers along with a community building agenda. …

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