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Public Safety Remains A Divisive Talking Point In Jax Mayor's Race

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office

Public safety has emerged as a major issue in Jacksonville’s super close mayor’s race, with incumbent Mayor Alvin Brown defending his approach to this core function of government, while challenger Lenny Curry has hammered Brown’s administration on the issue of violent crime. A recent school bus shooting incident reinforced the narrative.

In particular, the Curry campaign has pounded the messaging that Brown “cut 147 police officers” from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

That claim was refuted last week by reporter David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union,who wrote:

“The reduction in police officers actually began in the 2010-11 fiscal year, which was the final budget year of John Peyton’s term, according to a Sheriff’s Office budget document and the City Council Auditor’s Office. During that year, 30 police officer positions were cut from the city’s general fund. Brown took office in July 2011 and his first budget was for the 2011-12 fiscal year. The four budgets enacted during Brown’s term in office have cut 117 more police officer positions from the general fund, according to the Sheriff’s Office document and City Council Auditor Kirk Sherman. Of those 117 cuts, 41 of the eliminated positions stemmed from the Duval County School Board and Jacksonville Port Authority deciding to stop contracting with the Sheriff’s Office to provide officers at their locations, Sherman said.”

The Brown campaign has touted Bauerlein’s reporting as evidence Curry’s attacks on his public safety record are hyperbolic.

Meanwhile, outgoing Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford (said to be eyeing the newly vacant seat of Rep. Ron DeSantis) made an impromptu call into WJCT’s First Coast Connect Monday morning to dispute the T-U piece.

“I wanted to correct the numbers of police officers the mayor has laid out. I’ll correct the mayor and the T-U, they’ve both gotten it wrong. There were 30 vacancies that I carried that this administration cut their first year in office, and that number creates 147 positions that have been cut since this mayor took office. He could have filled those positions, given me the money to fill those positions, and he did not,” Rutherford said. 

“He didn’t fund my budget to hire 80 officers and in a consolidated government the sheriff does not control his budget, the mayor’s office does. There’s about $800 million in operations that I control, the other $400 million is committed through things like the pension, Workmans Comp, those things the mayor’s office controls not the sheriff,” he said.

For his piece Bauerlein cited the figures from public records.

Rutherford and Curry have received pushback in the war of words over Jacksonville’s public safety concerns in recent weeks by surrogates for Brown, in particular from former City Councilman Eric Smith, who noted at a recent Brown endorsement press conference that “Sheriff Rutherford should take responsibility for enforcing the law rather than passing the buck to someone else. He has the constitutional authority to appeal city budgets and request more money if he sees fit. However, this sheriff has not once undergone this process.”

For his part, Curry has consistently maintained that the mayor’s office must lead on public safety in concert with law enforcement, and has pointed out the rocky relationship between Brown and Rutherford as evidence a change is needed.

As the accusations fly, Bauerlein will join First Coast Connect on Election Day to discuss the story and how public safety has become a signature campaign theme.

Listen to the full conversation with Rutherford on today's episode of the First Coast Connect podcast on iTunes.

Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.