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Times-Union guest editorial: Clearing myths about crime Downtown

Coinciding with the release of our Safety Paper, Downtown Vision, Inc.‘s executive director Terry Lorince submitted the following editorial to the Florida Times-Union to share with the community that Downtown is one Jacksonville’s safest neighborhoods. This editorial appeared in the Times-Union print edition this weekend, and can also be read on Jacksonville.com. We welcome feedback to contact@downtownjacksonville.org.

 

Terry Lorince, DVI executive director

It’s often misreported in the news that a crime was committed in Downtown Jacksonville when in fact the crime occurred outside of the established Downtown boundaries, sometimes by miles.

At Downtown Vision Inc., one of our roles is to clear up these inaccuracies, help educate the public about what clearly defines Downtown and improve perceptions about Downtown.

Misperceptions still exist that Downtown is not safe for residents and visitors. I’d like to dispel those myths.

Fact: Downtown Jacksonville is one of the safest neighborhoods in our region. Criminal incidents Downtown account for only 2 percent of the total number of priority criminal incidents in Duval County, and that number continues to drop year after year.

That’s low considering that downtown had more than 48,000 workers, 3,500 residents and more than 9 million visitors last year alone.

Photo by Rob Futrell

Ambassadors on patrol

Many people don’t realize the people who work feverishly behind the scenes to help keep Downtown safe. Our Downtown Ambassadors receive continual training to identify, deter and report criminal activity, working side-by-side with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

Downtown Ambassadors have protocols in place to deal with panhandling and nuisance activity, and work to eliminate Downtown urban campsites.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has about 20 officers assigned to cover the Downtown area on any given day — more officers per square mile than in any other area in Jacksonville — who provide visibility and accessibility.

The sheriff regularly deploys additional officers Downtown for special events. We are vigilant about providing added security for major events that bring large crowds Downtown, especially at night.

Residents agree
In our recent focus groups of Downtown residents and employees, participants overwhelmingly and passionately spoke about feeling safe Downtown. One employee stated that it was up to the people who are comfortable Downtown to bring people who are not comfortable and escort them around.

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve worked Downtown for 12 years attending meetings that run well after dark, walking in garages by myself at night and providing walking tours to hundreds of people over the years. Have I been panhandled? Yes, and I’ve been panhandled in every other major city I visit.

Exercising a few simple safety tips, such as paying attention to your surroundings, stowing valuables out of sight and refusing panhandling requests — panhandling is illegal no matter what the excuse — go a long way to deter nuisance activity and effectively shift perceptions on Downtown safety.

More people visible and moving around on the streets deter crime. That’s our goal at Downtown Vision, to bring more people — residents, workers and visitors — Downtown to fill our streets and show vibrancy, safety and energy, which are the hallmarks of low-crime communities.

We encourage readers to visit downtownjacksonville.org and read our Safety Paper for more information.