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Youth Violence Debated At First Jacksonville 'Community Conversation' On Public Safety

Ryan Benk

In the aftermath of one of Jacksonville’s most violent months, Mayor Lenny Curry is pledging a continued dialog with the neighborhoods most affected.

Curry and a panel of city leaders kicked off that effort Thursday night at the first of three “community conversations” on public safety.

But some residents weren't pleased with the direction of the conversation.

Curry had already announced the “conversations” when the city was rocked by a violent start to the new year. The tally of dead reached 14 in January, including the slaying of 22-month-old Aiden McClendon

At the outset of the forum Thursday, Curry said his short-term goal is increasing police presence in the most at-risk communities.

“We’re going to continue to need more police officers, and, you know, some people hear that, and it’s not a popular thing to say, but those are the facts,” Curry said. “[It's] still fewer police officers than we had in 2003, and when you have people think that it’s OK to shoot up cars and shoot up homes, you’ve got to enforce those people.”

In the long-term, Curry says he’s working to get the youth violence and prevention program Jax Journey moving with a new, data-driven approach. He says he wants to identify the most at-risk kids, allocate limited funds more judiciously and elicit more community buy-in.

But Jacksonville resident Herbert Randolph told the panel he doesn't want what the mayor is selling.

“They’re not talking about the things we can do when they’re 5 or 6," he says. "Then, I discussed the fact that they’re saying they have a shortcome [sic] in budget, and yet they’re giving Shad Khan $40 million for a pool.”

Randolph says he’d like to see more dollars spent in languishing areas of town to help lift people out of poverty.

Still, the mayor says the city must figure out how to cut  the albatross of a $1 billion pension debt from its neck before more funding can be allocated to other social programs and economic redevelopment.

The next “community conversation” will be on the University of North Florida’s campus Feb. 29 at 6 p.m.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.