Sheriff: Crime Not A ‘Widespread’ Issue In Jacksonville During Hurricane Irma

Oct 3, 2017

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams
Credit Jacksonville Sheriff's Office

Forty-three businesses and 42 homes were burglarized in the days before and right after Hurricane Irma passed over Duval County, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

The office is currently assessing how many of these crimes were committed expressly as a result of criminals taking advantage of the natural disaster, but Sheriff Mike Williams said it doesn’t represent a widespread issue.

“Not a spike so to speak—a little higher than normal, potentially— but nothing in terms of looting. When I think of looting I think of people running the streets and kicking stores and everybody running in and taking something. These were more the classic burglaries where you had a couple of people taking advantage, now, of the situation where people had evacuated [and] where businesses were empty,” he said.

Related: Jacksonville Crime Mapping

According to the Sheriff’s spokeswoman, looting is not a specific charge and each case is being reviewed individually by the State Attorney’s Office to see if they qualify for enhanced penalties.

“So Melissa [Nelson] came up with the idea ‘let’s take all these cases and have one prosecutor look at them’ under the idea that these people took extra advantage of our community when we asked them to evacuate,” he said.

Following the storm, Sheriff Williams and State Attorney Melissa Nelson announced the plan to aggressively pursue criminals taking advantage of storm victims, including in the weeks after when residents could be more vulnerable to fraud.

Charges like fraud, however, take a significantly longer time to pursue, as a detective would have to conclude a thorough investigation before anything would be filed, said the Sheriff’s spokeswoman.

Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, announced last month he’d be filing a measure to stiffen penalties for crimes committed during a state of emergency.

The burglary numbers provided by the Sheriff’s Office are to be included in the top law enforcement officer’s hurricane debrief before city leaders and Mayor Lenny Curry.

Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter at @RyanMichaelBenk.