Jacksonville progressive activists are asking city Finance Committee Chairman Garrett Dennis to gut Mayor Lenny Curry’s plan to beef up the city’s police force.
Curry is recommending adding as many as 100 new officers, he said, to make neighborhoods safer.
But the Jacksonville Community Action Committee is arguing that more officers don’t equal less crime.
Curry unveiled his budget last week, and as he has done since he was elected, he focused heavily on public safety funding, with plans to hire the police officers and more than 40 firefighters.
Community organizer Michael Sampson said although he supports Curry’s request to fund some Northside infrastructure projects, he believes most of the mayor’s priorities are confused.
“Simply adding 100 new police officers won’t solve whatever issue the mayor is trying to solve doing this,” he said. “There have been talks about unprecedented crime, which is why we have to add all these new officers.”
Sampson pointed to research showing the overall national trend of violent crime has declined significantly since the 1990s, despite small bumps in recent years. Jacksonville has seen a minor increase in parts of its violent crime rate since 2015. For example, Duval County had nine more murders in 2016 than 2015, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement statistics. But the county’s overall crime rate dropped 2.2 percent over the same time period.
The Community Action Committee is targeting Finance Chair Garrett Dennis with a phone banking campaign. They want him to amend Curry’s proposed budget to include less money for police recruiting and more for crime prevention programs and police accountability.
Dennis said he mostly agrees: You can’t always arrest your way out of a crime problem. But he says, at the same time the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office still hasn’t recovered from budget cuts following the Great Recession.
“I go to numerous community meetings throughout my district every month, and I’ve never heard any community member (or) constituent of mine say to me, ‘There are too many police officers,’” he said.
Dennis, who represents much of the city’s Westside and the New Town area of Northwest Jacksonville, said his office has also received a deluge of phone calls from activists who agree with Sampson.
Sampson said his group and others will continue pressuring officials to take a different approach to public safety. He also says a petition drive calling for the creation of a citizen-led police accountability board is in full swing.