John remembers well the greeting his family received when they moved into Jacksonville’s Grand Park neighborhood in the 1950s. They were the first Blacks who had bought a home in that section of the city but his recently separated mother hoped the opportunity to own their own home would help solidify the family.
The greeting, however, was anything but welcoming. It was in the form of a note that had been attached to the family’s mailbox shortly after they moved in.
“We hate niggers,” the note read. It was certainly an omen of what lay ahead.
“I don’t think she had any idea what she’d be up against,” said John, who was 12 at the time but is now retired. He still lives in Grand Park today but the area transitioned to become an all-Black neighborhood in the late 1960s and now it’s a decidedly easier place for John to live.
However back when the pre-teen John and his older brother moved into Grand Park it was anything but easy.
The family soon learned what they were up against in their new neighborhood.
They couldn’t put any clean clothes to dry on the clothes line. When they came back to collect them, the clothes would have been torn down or stolen.
Neither John nor his brother could safely walk to or home from school without the other in tow or in a group of friends. Otherwise, their White neighbors would taunt and intimidate the boys until they had to fight to get back to their new home.
“We would never start it,” John said. “But a lot of times I just had to fight my way to get to school and fight my way to get back home.”
John remembers one particular time, a Sunday, when his mother asked him to go to the corner grocery to pick up a few things. On the way back, White neighbor boys pelted him with cow manure until his clothes were ruined.
“There was nothing you could do except go home, change clothes, and go on to church.”
Although there was a neighborhood park with two softball fields and a basketball court, none of the Black children or adults who lived nearby were allowed to play on the softball fields. “They said we could only play basketball,” he remembered.
By the time John had enrolled in Stanton High School a few years later, the neighborhood was slowly changing. And by the late 1960s, most of the family’s White neighbors had sold their homes and fled to the suburbs. It was only then that Grand Park became more hospitable to John’s family.
Life was better at Stanton as well. John remembered it was the first time he had ever had a textbook that wasn’t used. And the school provided neighbors with a place of welcome, a safe haven bustling with community activities and events long after the last school bell of the day had rung.
“There was always something going on there, educational classes and typing classes for adults, sports for kids. It involved the whole community and wouldn’t close until at least 7:30 at night.”
Although John said Jacksonville has improved over his almost seven decades, he still believes there is much work to be done. In particular, he’d like Black children to learn more about their own local history.
“That’s the thing that bothers me the most – they don’t know their own history. A lot of these younger people don’t have a clue what my mother went through or what my grandfather went through,” John said.
And, he thinks the easy money of drugs and the easy proliferation of guns is hurting many communities in Jacksonville.
“I don’t understand these young people. When I went out to party in my day I didn’t put my gun in my car. Now (violence) seems to be everywhere in Jacksonville.
“We really need to solve these problems.”
“We have to start off with a fundamental point of departure — and that is that we care.”
… JustJax participant
Jacksonville’s residents did not mince words when they spoke with the JustJax team members, and in channeling their concerns into policy recommendations, we will not either. More must be done.
The evidence is clear that the community violence plaguing Jacksonville will not disappear without the resources and sustained, focused attention it deserves. The violence rips families and neighborhoods apart—and keeps the city from the promise of cohesiveness never realized after consolidation, a steady flame of old and new tensions with each new generation.
There is a shared sense of weariness of people who have watched Jacksonville’s response to the deep-seated challenges of community safety. This weariness comes from the city’s seeming inability to follow through on recommendations, which translates into a lack of empathy and results in a lack of faith in the ability of government actors whose prioritization of safety as a community-level concern ebbs and flows.
JustJax respondents illustrated that weariness very effectively. When we contacted one person, for example, this was the brief but telling reply: “When I got your message, I thought, ‘Here we go again!’”
This was true of both JustJax participants who had grown up in Jacksonville as well as those who had moved to the city as adults. They were tired of previous ill-fated attempts to end the crime and violence and told us that in no uncertain terms. “We just can’t keep putting fingers in dykes and taking kids to the morgue.”
We heard of mistrust and fear of police from Black residents, and from White people concerned for their Black neighbors. We heard from young people who experience this fear every day. “I don’t feel safe in my neighborhood,” one said. The terror was often accompanied by the frustration and anxiety of having been targets for police simply because of residents’ proximity to areas of violence or because of their skin color. “I know people who get stopped by the police every day. They (police) just put us in survival mode,” another respondent told us.
But we heard more than just the frustration raised by the perceived indifference from law enforcement and the inability of government officials to do the right thing to stem violence. We heard of people’s displeasure with ineffective neighborhood groups, siloed and unconnected nonprofits, disengaged churches, and even other residents who seemed unable or unwilling to see the desperate situation in which the city finds itself.
In most cases, however, while people were vocal about the city’s problems, they were less sure about answers. As one participant stated: “I think there’s some real fatigue, about talking about crime and how bad it is. And so what do you do to energize the public? How do you create a sense of urgency? How do you create the possibility that we could do better, much better? I don’t know. I just feel like there’s some opportunity here.“
We’re not sure we know the solutions either. But we have spoken with scores of people. We also have reviewed hundreds of pieces of research, opinion pieces, data banks, news articles, the findings of numerous task forces and commissions. And, we have arrived at some conclusions about tactics that can be put into place.
The truth is, there are undoubtedly numerous issues that must be faced and barriers that must be breached to arrive at needed change in Jacksonville. The complex nature of why the city arrived at this point and how to address its arrival requires solutions as complex as the questions themselves. We readily acknowledge we can’t address them all. We will, however, attempt to address a few ranging from city-altering structural changes (the most difficult to enact) to the creation of less onerous projects, which present lower-hanging fruit more easily reached.
In this and the following section, we tackle the former. Our first recommendations focus on how various entities throughout Jacksonville – from city government to JSO to nonprofits – can be adjusted to deal more effectively with the city’s high rate of crime and violence while building community-level protective factors for children.1 In this report’s next section on storytelling, we discuss an equally important barrier concerning the way Jacksonville residents see their city and one another. We believe these two sections are necessary to undertake concurrently – neither will work as effectively without the other.
The final three sections concern recommendations we term the “lower hanging fruit” of this effort. If the first two recommendations are the foundation, then these additional recommendations are supporting walls. Relatedly, there are numerous other barriers that must also be dealt with city-wide: poverty, unemployment rates, adult education, re-entry for those exiting the criminal justice system, and so on. It’s easy to see why efforts to address all of these entangling issues become overwhelmed by inertia.
However, the reality is that the violence is occurring now, people are dying now and children are exposed to this violence every day. The city must come together to focus on job number one: stopping the unending murders while building a framework that supports prevention and intervention efforts in a methodical and sustained way.
We hope that what we’ve provided is enough to at least begin the journey.
City Structure and Funding
For too long Jacksonville has been dependent upon the vagaries of politics as it attempted to solve the problem of crime on city streets. Various mayors, sheriffs and other elected officials have enacted task force after task force, commission after commission to find solutions. Recommendations would be made and, sometimes, put roughly into action only to fall by the wayside following the next election. Looking back can help us shape a better way forward.
All it takes to realize this truth is to look at what has happened with city-level planning and budgeting for programs aimed to address youth and community crime prevention. First there was the Jacksonville Journey, which was then folded into the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, which was then recreated as the Kids Hope Alliance – and all operated under different administrations and shifting agendas. Each restructuring fractures progress and does nothing to instill confidence in the government.
Funding is just as precarious and politicized. History has shown Jacksonville has not been able to commit to either a consistent focus or consistent funding. On one hand, funding for community programs and services is truly anyone’s guess year-to-year. On the other hand, funding for law enforcement is consistent under good economic times, yet generally under-scrutinized for performance. We point to this as a means of recognizing the imbalance of funding necessary to support a full complement of violence reduction via prevention, intervention, and enforcement strategies. The three-legged stool of violence reduction is off balance.
The Florida Times-Union editorial board described, for example, the fits and starts of the Jacksonville Journey.
“In 2008 the Journey recommended $36 million in 2009 for anti-crime programs; that amount was supposed to gradually increase to $61 million by 2013. What happened was a dramatic reduction in murders around 2011; in addition there was a strong oversight committee that made sure that if Journey programs weren’t producing results, they were eliminated.”2
Further, the recession hit making the case for sustained funding more difficult in an area truly just getting off the ground. From that point the Journey focus on prevention was absorbed into the Children’s Commission, which was then dismantled with the creation of the Kids Hope Alliance. Each of these three efforts had similar, though varying goals and objectives, which weakened the prospects for success and city-wide buy-in. Further, the amount of money devoted to the shifting category of Jacksonville Journey (which was also rebranded as Jax Journey), was significantly decreased.
This was documented in 2017 in city budget deliberations.
The 2016 budget of “… $4.38 million (for the Journey) was more than twice what Alvin Brown allocated to the program, but a fraction of the $31 million Mayor John Peyton budgeted in 2008. Meanwhile, Jacksonville City Council members challenged the scope of the program ahead of approving last year’s budget, arguing that pockets of despair and anomie exist throughout the city.”3
It was a refrain that we heard repeatedly from participants. Permanent and stable funding of programming had to be established before things could improve. “We need perpetual funding. We cannot have whatever mayor is in charge decide every year who gets money when the budget is increased,” one respondent reflected.
For both these reasons, our First Recommendation is to recognize the need to establish an enduring governmental entity that 1) complements the city’s current, largely enforcement-driven, efforts to reduce violence through investment in community-level, non-enforcement strategies and services; and 2) ensures an unrelenting city-level focus on supporting children and youth via prevention and intervention programs. More specifically, we recommend the creation of an “Independent Authority” in order to do so.
As we envision it, the independent authority would not deliver services but become the central planning, budgeting, and accountability entity for city-wide efforts coordinated under the same mission — short-term goals including immediate violence reduction, and longer-term goals supporting positive individual and community-level gains, including sustained violence reduction.
The authority would include oversight and funding for the kinds of programs the Kids Hope Alliance and Jacksonville Journey have traditionally overseen. It would also include oversight and funding for targeted non-enforcement, public health modeled crime-reduction initiatives such as Cure Violence.4 Moreover, the independent authority would serve as the city’s auditing, data, and research arm for such efforts to ensure investment and progress in the public interest.
Included among its functions, would be the ability to quickly coordinate and effectively respond to external funding opportunities. There are many places to look for such funding prospects.
Importantly, the Biden administration has included more than $5 billion of new funding toward community-based violence reduction efforts in its April 2021 jobs and infrastructure plan. The White House Domestic Policy Council director, Susan Rice, explained, “part of that means taking care of those who live in our urban environments, where gun violence and violence in the community is a major impediment to economic activity and to economic growth and is obviously costing the lives of many, many innocents … That is essential to the well-being of our country as a whole.”5
This funding offers an unprecedented level of commitment to solving the problem of urban violence in our country, and in communities ready to tackle its violence methodically. Jacksonville should be prepared–and moreover, would be advantaged over other communities–to present a unified plan in order to draw new funding to the city.
The pairing of funding and policy-creation for both public safety and the city’s children under the purview of an independent authority is essential. It reflects the observation that a healthy community is one in which the health, safety, and rights of all residents are protected. It’s a community where the rights and needs of children are recognized, prioritized, and provided for. It provides a focus on facing the most acute problems now, including street violence, while addressing the ongoing responsibility of building a framework in which children are protected and supported.
It’s a community in which it’s recognized that city-supported strategies that respond only to crime after the fact are not enough, and that unaddressed trauma is both a cause and consequence of exposure to crime and violence.
“We frame (community safety) as a legal issue and we frame it as a police issue but those won’t work,” one respondent told us. “It is fundamentally a human rights and child rights problem.”6
The establishment of an entity to oversee violence prevention and intervention as well as providing for Jacksonville’s children will offer an assurance to the public that the city is committed to building the necessary, robust toolkit of intervention and prevention strategies in complement to appropriate law enforcement strategies. It would ensure that these programs have continuity and are untethered to the ever-changing political climate. The creation of an independent authority would be a tangible turn from the mistakes of the past and a real investment in the future of the entire city.
As one respondent put it: “There’s been so many task forces, but has anything worked? I don’t think anything has worked well. What we really need to do is focus on kids. I think our funding and focus needs to be on kids.”
Certainly, the city has experience with independent authorities.
The Jacksonville Electric Authority, for example, was created during the consolidation of the city and county governments in 1967. The Jacksonville Aviation Authority was developed in 2001 by then-Gov. Jeb Bush agreed that the new airport authority should be separated from the Jacksonville Port Authority. The Downtown Investment Authority was created in 2012 to oversee community redevelopment. There’s also the Jacksonville Transportation Authority and the Jacksonville Housing Authority.
Independent governmental agencies have been formed in Jacksonville and other places due to recognition that for certain specialized issues and sectors of the community there was a need for an agency separated from other branches or arms of the government. These agencies have the ability to exercise autonomous authority over a specific area in a regulatory or supervisory capacity. They also enhance the ability to receive both private- and public-sector funding beyond just the city’s coffers.
The need for continuity was reinforced recently by the City of Jacksonville’s now concluded Task Force on Safety and Crime Reduction: “It is also important to recognize that programs and initiatives designed to reduce crime and violence must have continuity, so that we do not begin to de-fund programs when crime reduction results begin to manifest. Our recent history as a city suggests that we have prematurely ended successful crime reduction efforts in the past when violent crime declined.“7
For an independent authority to function properly, however, it must also be tied to a dedicated source of funding – money not predicated upon who sits in the mayor’s office or on the city council. To fund such an independent authority, we recommend a protective funding mechanism be identified that ensures community safety and children’s needs are prioritized beyond political inclinations. This could be accomplished in numerous ways, including a dedicated millage rate or a special taxing district.
There are successful precedents across the state for such dedicated funding. Children’s Services Councils (CSCs) “are established by county citizens to help fund organizations that serve children and families in the county where it exists. They were also created to make sure these dollars are being spent wisely and invested in programs that will provide the best outcomes for the children and families within their communities. Each CSC is a local dedicated funding source committed to research-based programs that impact child and family outcomes with priorities defined by the community’s needs.”8
These entities exist in two forms, independent and dependent. Independent CSCs receive dedicated funding through a portion of property taxes. Currently the following counties have independent CSCs: Alachua, Broward, Escambia, Leon, Hillsborough, Martin, Miami-Dade, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, Pinellas and St. Lucie. While the funding for these can vary depending upon property valuations, it is a consistent and dedicated form of funding that is not connected to politicization.
The Kids Hope Alliance is a dependent CSC and gets its money mainly from the city but the amount can vary from year to year spending upon the budgetary process. It’s hard to count on the continuity of programming without a continuity of funding.
Although the state’s independent CSCs certainly provide one example of the use of dedicated funding, there are other ways that funding can be assured. That’s why we suggest any task force created to explore the creation of an independent authority also carefully examine the myriad of ways funding can be dedicated.
Independent entities exist in several of the comparison counties we reviewed in terms of crime rates in our introduction. Their consistent strategies demonstrate a host of positive outcomes, which have long-term, measurable results. Moreover, the Florida Children’s Council, Florida’s association of CSCs, asserts, “No other public organization provides this kind of umbrella leadership, coordination and supervision of efforts focused on children. In communities where they exist, CSCs make data-driven decisions, maximize local resources, and ensure accountability of funded programs.”9
In addition, we suggest that within this new independent authority, an Office of Community Violence Prevention and Reduction (or Office of Neighborhood Safety or other appropriate name) should be created. This would be a distinct entity specifically designed to plan for, coordinate, and evaluate city-wide violence reduction strategies within targeted neighborhoods. Such an effort will be able to coordinate activities across governmental agencies including law enforcement, planning, and other city departments, as well as in coordination with local nonprofits, civic and faith groups, and community leaders.
However, the focus of the newly created Office of Community Violence Prevention and Reduction must reach beyond traditional law enforcement efforts to include non-punitive approaches like violence interruption and credible messenger strategies as well as identified community-level wrap-around services for areas and individuals of most acute need. The Office would guide the holistic, neighborhood-level approaches that have been missing or inconsistently supported in Jacksonville’s enduring fight against neighborhood violence.
Such offices as utilized across the country may vary in scope, authority, and size, but all share the concern that sufficient resources and sustained cross-sector attention to the acute issues of violence must be embedded into city-level tactics.10
Promisingly, there is a beginning framework from which to build. A federal planning and implementation grant currently led via the Office of the (Jacksonville) Mayor, the Community Violence Prevention Program, is developing a pilot strategy that demonstrates the beginning of this approach on a small, targeted level. The City’s Community-Based Crime Reduction Program (CBCR) has three key goals: reduce crime, increase mutual trust between law enforcement and community stakeholders, and improve public safety in Mid-Westside Jacksonville neighborhoods (Grand Park, New Town, Durkeeville and LaVilla).
While still evolving (an implementation plan is under development for submission to the Department of Justice in the upcoming months), the CBCR has offered the following frame for its work.
“Tackling crime should be strategic and a community-wide effort, so the Mayor’s Community Based Crime Reduction Program approach is innovative, data-driven and inclusive of guidance from community residents, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the CBCR Steering Committee and the CBCR Cross Sector Strategic Planning Team. The program’s Steering Committee and Cross Sector Team are comprised of leaders from local organizations who are directly involved in the ongoing work of holistically making our focus neighborhoods safer.”11
We are optimistic regarding the proposal, though it is early days and we have yet to see a plan. However, there is much to be hopeful about. The effort is truly cross-sector, engaging the city and many of its departments, including law enforcement as well as the business community, future employers, community groups, local leaders, and public health practitioners. They have also engaged research partners to identify geographic and community needs and hone in on strategies. The CBCR has brought multiple resources to the table, each partner contributing to the overall impact. This is the concentrated and comprehensive focus that the violence demands.
What we do not wish to see, however, is that this strategy dies on the vine or gets lost in the fickle winds of politics. It is simply too promising and is the nascent framework for a larger community-wide approach. We are hopeful that its deliberate and concentrated approach can be learned from and replicated across the neighborhoods of highest concern.
Even more, while the mayor’s role is undeniably important in Jacksonville, “mayors have obligations that preclude them from taking on the day-to-day-oversight of these initiatives …”12 This suggests the creation of an independent office that is entirely devoted to city-wide redress of violence. It must be embedded within the everyday activities of government — the morning calisthenics, the evening prayer — not dependent on a particularly hopeful project under one administration. It must be provided sufficient resources and attention.
To push forward with establishing an independent authority with dedicated funding, we recommend a countywide task force be created by the nonprofit and the business community to develop a strategic plan for implementation. Task force members, who should include members of the violence-affected neighborhoods, should gather information about the formation of independent authorities and securing funding sources. Importantly, information should be gathered from local leaders on their degree of support and how to turn promise to action.
The task force and its backers need to then make their case to the Jacksonville community, emphasizing that everyone has a stake in such an effort. Champions of the idea should be identified who are willing to speak out about their support. In addition, community allies from business, education, nonprofits, and other sectors should be cultivated to encourage implementation. These resources, human and political, should be fully engaged in a community-level campaign.
“In order for us to be able to solve what we all consider to be one of the biggest issues facing our community both today and in the future, we need to join together now. We need to reach consensus and resolve this, if not, we’re going to get the same results we have been getting,” according to Michael Munz, the former director of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission. “Change is not going to occur if we don’t come together, weave consensus and take action.”
And, in fact, community involvement is essential to meeting this first recommendation. It will take unified messaging to convince residents across the county to commit their support for a new independent authority. A vision of what this could mean for Jacksonville needs to be created and shared with residents. It will take a committed coalition of leaders willing to share their voices and thoughts with city’s residents to make this idea a reality. This should be the sole focus of their mission.
The sharing of voices from the community cannot be a one-way street as it all too often has been. The voices not heard have historically been those of residents within the violence-affected neighborhoods.
That’s precisely why our Second Recommendation deals with the formation of community groups to ensure responsive, respectful, and consistent citizen participation to create a feedback loop into deliberations. We believe such groups can be instrumental in helping the city and its related departments and commissions deal with policy creation.
We believe groups can also create a network of support for residents within the affected communities. And, groups and individuals can make their experiences and opinions heard in places that haven’t always been open to hearing such views.
That’s a broad recommendation. So, what might it look like?
First, we suggest that groups be created demographically from affected neighborhoods. For example, there could be groups of teens, women, or seniors who meet regularly to discuss with elected officials and others. Topics to be considered could range from discussions on city policy to budgetary concerns. Participation should include multiple public avenues, including consistently scheduled meetings, neighborhood town halls, and a commitment to open-door feedback policies that explicitly state the invaluable partnership of residents. Surveys and other means of soliciting input should be routinely incorporated, but there is little substitute for having regular, meaningful interactions that lead to planning and budgeting in the public interest.
Second, we believe the churches within the affected communities should develop a more unified plan to support their neighborhoods. Although there are certainly faith groups within Jacksonville that are supportive of social justice such as OneJax and ICARE, there seems to be no organization of faith leaders to provide hands-on care and to build a responsive network of collective energy and resources. Collaboration breeds collaboration. Bringing the collective interests and resources of groups like ICARE and OneJax to the table seems immensely doable and immensely promising.
“We have the most churches per capita in the nation yet they don’t support the community,” one respondent told us. And from another: “Over the years (the faith community) has become very parochial, very siloed. I’m unaware of any attempts to coalesce the faith communities in the affected neighborhoods to deal with issues there.”
The voices of the church and neighborhood groups can then be utilized to aid other community institutions in better dealing with and understanding issues in these neighborhoods. At the top of the list is the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Although the JSO has officers participate in crisis-intervention training and other training meant to reduce the negative interactions between community and law enforcement, what those fail to deliver is a deeper understanding of the ongoing, lived-in experiences of people within the communities in which the officers serve.
That’s borne out by perceptions of residents in the most violence-affected neighborhoods of Jacksonville. A 2018 study by the University of North Florida13 showed that survey respondents in the JSO patrol zones most affected by violence (zones 1, 4, and 5) were more likely to say they disapproved of the way the sheriff’s office was handling its job. The same was true when the sample was divided by race. When asked the same question, both Blacks and Hispanics have higher percentages (16 and 15) of those who strongly disapprove of the way JSO handles its job than White respondents. Moreover, in comparison to an earlier study from 2016,14 the percentage of disapproval had increased across all zones from 2016 to 2018.
We heard similar statements from our JustJax respondents. “The police don’t do a very good job. They’re against the community,” one said. “I feel like we got a target on our back because of the color of our skin or because of how we wear our hair.” For another respondent, the reason was simple: “They don’t understand us as people.” As the American Enterprise Institute Fellow Brent Orrell notes, “Police presence, if it is not cognizant of the social and emotional conditions of low-income neighborhoods and communities, can add stress and translate into a widespread fear of the police.”15
But the JSO wasn’t the only community institution to come in for criticism by respondents. The nonprofit community also received some criticism for a perceived disconnection between itself and the people being served.
“In their board rooms they too often are making decisions about people they don’t know,” one respondent said. And from another: “The nonprofit community of Jacksonville is probably one of the more fearful nonprofit communities that I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen nonprofit leaders so hesitant to create institutional change.”
To enable both JSO officers and members of the nonprofit community to more fully understand the residents of these affected neighborhoods, we suggest that regular, ongoing discussion groups be established. The mission of these groups would be to bring together representatives to talk about issues of public safety, personal interactions, and perceived beliefs in a process that would support the beliefs and needs of all individuals.
These discussion groups could mirror the groups already being utilized by Jacksonville’s Center for Children’s Rights. The staff already runs both restorative justice circles and discussion circles for children and adults that are designed to tackle criminal justice and social justice issues. “We focus on asking people to stop talking and listen more,” said Melissa Kerce, the Restorative Justice Coordinator for CCR.
Betsy Dobbins, the executive director of CCR, has already volunteered her organization to help establish such discussion groups. “We use them to build connection and community and at the heart of this is understanding different perspectives. This kind of engagement really builds connections between people and builds a community of care. It’s a way to invite everyone in, on a level playing field, and have open discussions.”
Our Third and Final Recommendation in this section involves ensuring accountability across enforcement strategies. Time and again, we heard of the divide between law enforcement and community members. Simply there’s no substitute for trust, and building trust, to bridge this divide. Trust can readily be advanced through ensuring a more fully public accounting of policing activities.
“JSO has a definite lack of transparency and that needs to change,” one person told us. Others mentioned problems accessing information and data from the city as well. “The city has a big problem with transparency,” another told us.
We suggest a task force be created to examine the transparency of public entities, including law enforcement, in Jacksonville with the goal of providing additional ways to make information and data more readily available for both the public and the news media, which are relied upon to transmit needed information to the public. Furthermore, we suggest that the housing of data could be a key responsibility of the independent authority, though this recommendation could also be handled outside of government, through a nonprofit entity, or within an already existing city governmental entity.
Over the past few years, especially, the introduction of new metrics have emerged not as novelty items, but as core tools to ensuring safe, cost-effective, fair, and evidence-driven management of criminal justice systems. State Attorney Nelson, in particular, has made good on her campaign promises to build transparency as a means to rebuilding trust with the community, launching an unprecedented transparency portal of key metrics to monitor her office’s performance. As Nelson said with the unveiling of this important project, “Improving transparency and trust in the prosecutor’s office were goals we set when we began this work … This data dashboard is a major step toward that commitment and helps us become better prosecutors and better stewards of taxpayer dollars.”16
Sheriff Williams has also introduced new metrics since taking office, particularly in response to community concerns, posting publicly accessible data on homicide numbers and officer-involved shootings, for example. These efforts should be commended and encouraged.
However, the transparency and accountability efforts to date, as important as they are to understanding and improving the work of these key stakeholders, do not provide community-wide data that transcends individual offices. This is where new state-level requirements can be leveraged.
Florida, most promisingly, passed legislation in 2018 to develop a state-level repository of key data across counties and judicial circuits. Described as the nation’s most ambitious state-level collection project to date, Florida is now positioned to learn more about how counties compare with each other, over time, and in relation to policy changes.
The collection and reporting of this data is mandated by the state and all related entities. The JSO, the courts, the state attorney’s office, and others will be expected to report their data on a consistent basis. We are hopeful that the Florida Department of Law enforcement soon releases this data — long in the works and long overdue.
It is an ambitious and profound addition that will afford Florida’s communities, including Duval, with an unprecedented ability to plan and budget with an enterprise-level of attention. Moreover, the work is already being done. The state’s mandated data collection provides the beginning framework to build a community-wide portal of continual measurement toward advancing safety outcomes. With anonymized individual-level data that tracks from arrest, to incarceration, to release, the new requirements can go far in exploring how to deal with criminal justice.
While the focus of this report concerns the unacceptably high rate of violence that Jacksonville has experienced, we would be remiss in not drawing attention to other areas that should demand more deliberate community-level accountability and attention. Data in these other areas must also be monitored.
For example, recent research provides incredibly powerful evidence for ensuring that diversion strategies are not only encouraged, but maximized. The study, conducted using 20 years’ of Suffolk County, Mass., data, found that “not prosecuting marginal nonviolent misdemeanor defendants substantially reduces their subsequent criminal justice contact (58 percent less likely after two years), or, in other words, that prosecuting marginal nonviolent misdemeanor defendants substantially increases their subsequent criminal justice contact.” 17
Leveraging these kinds of findings can inform the decision making process at the community-level, particularly in advancing a public safety agenda that ensures enforcement strategies are targeted to address the most pressing community concerns.
The fact is that there is a finite amount of resources, even for law enforcement. If the enforcement strategies, like arrests for low level offenses, are not providing the public safety return that the public deserves (let alone that they are actively contributing to increases in criminal activity), then the public should know. These kinds of findings and trends need to be monitored, and frankly treasured, for they are keys to a safer, fairer, more cost-effective criminal justice system.
As one of the lead author’s of Florida’s criminal justice data transparency legislation, and current Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Chris Sprowls shared,
“When you prosecute a case, you are focused on a snapshot of the system — this victim, that perpetrator, these facts. It becomes very easy to lose sight of how a single case fits into the larger picture and how our actions compare to what prosecutors, judges and juries are doing in other jurisdictions. Without access to data, we had no objective measures to use to validate our theories, disprove our assumptions or test our biases. Even when we tried non-traditional solutions, such as the veterans court I helped to create in my state judicial circuit, we made decisions based more on instinct and observation than on information.”18
But in order to do so, the community has to be able to engage with the data on a local and consistent basis. This data should not only be accessible to researchers but should be integrated into community understanding and trust through the development of a specific county-wide criminal justice data portal. This data should be incorporated into the independent authority’s accountability process, and grants for research projects specifically focused on leveraging these key data should be integral to the authority’s continual improvement processes.
1Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2015, Sept.). Promoting protective factors for in-risk families and youth: a guide for practitioners. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families Administration on Children, Youth and Families Children’s Bureau. Retrieved, March 24, 2021, from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/in_risk.pdf
2Times-Union Editorial Board. (2019, Aug. 8). Thursday editorial: it’s time for a Jacksonville Journey 2.0. Florida Times-Union. Retrieved March 24, 2021, from https://www.jacksonville.com/opinion/20190808/thursday-editorial-its-time-for-jacksonville-journey-20
3Gancarski, A.G. (2017. June 15). Looming reforms cast cloud over Jax Journey budget. Florida Politics. Retrieved March 24, 2021, from https://floridapolitics.com/archives/240129-jax-journey-budget
4Cure Violence. (n.d.) What we do. https://cvg.org/what-we-do/
5Summers, J. (2021, April 1). $5 Billion for violence prevention is tucked into Biden infrastucture plan. NPR. Retrieved, April 1, 2021, from https://www.npr.org/2021/04/01/983103198/-5-billion-for-violence-prevention-is-tucked-into-biden-infrastructure-plan
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7City of Jacksonville. Task Force on Safety and Crime Reduction. (2019). Accessed at: http://apps2.coj.net/City_Council_Public_Notices_Repository/20190506%20Task%20Force%20Final%20Report.pdf
8Florida Children’s Services Council. (n.d.) What is a CSC? Retrieved March 24, 2021, from https://flchildrenscouncil.org/about-cscs/overview/
9Florida Children’s Council. (n.d.) Independent Children’s Services Councils highlighted outcomes. Retrieved March 24, 2021, from https://www.flchildrenscouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/CSC-Outcomes-Overview-Final-1.pdf
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11Department of Violence Prevention. (n.d.) City of Oakland. Retrieved March 24, 2021, from https://www.oaklandca.gov/departments/violence-prevention
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13The Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida. (2018). Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Community Survey 2018. Retrieved April 4, 2021, from https://transparency.jaxsheriff.org/Content/Files/Survey%20Report%202018%20Final%20Version.pdf
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15Orrell, B. (2020, July 13). Police officers’ connection to communities they serve is broken. Here’s how to repair it. USA Today. Retrieved March 24, 2021, from https://www.aei.org/articles/police-officers-connection-to-communities-they-serve-is-broken-heres-how-to-repair-it/
16Office of the State Attorney, Fourth Judicial Circuit. (2020, December 29). SAO4 Launches Data Dashboard to the Public [Press release]. https://www.sao4th.com/data-dashboard-launch/
17Agan, A., Doleac, L., & Harvey, A. (2021, March). Misdemeanor prosecution (Working Paper No. 28600). Retrieved March 31, 2021, from National Bureau of Economic Research website: https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w28600/w28600.pdf