by Monica Chamness
It may not be the most visible landmark downtown — a small sign in the window marks the spot — but the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office stop station in the Ed Ball Building appears to be serving its purpose.
“I think more people feel comfortable going downtown and the statistics prove that it’s safer,” said Harry Reagan, public information coordinator for the JSO. “The whole concept of stop stations does address the perception issue that downtown is not safe. Statistically, it’s not unsafe but fighting statistics is not enough. There are elements downtown that you don’t encounter elsewhere. I speculate some people perceive the homeless as a crime problem.”
When the idea was first discussed, First Union, which has a branch in the building, agreed to provide the space rent free. And the bank continues to provide furniture, equipment, utilities and other amenities at no cost.
“When we opened the station, it was greeted by enthusiasm by the women in the building,” said Reagan. “They [First Union] may see the benefit to the area, also. It’s a win-win situation in regards to crime.”
Besides First Union’s contributions, the location was ideal for a stop station, according to Reagan.
“A primary factor in deciding on a location is where police presence would most impact crime,” said Reagan. “We wanted it where it would have an impact and be centrally located so the officers would use it. My observation is that the station gets used quite a bit. Police are in and out of the building 24/7.”
The stations are used by police officers to fill out paperwork, make telephone calls or handle other administrative tasks. Perhaps the main benefit for the public is that stop stations bolster the appearance of additional police protection in the areas where they are located.
According to last year’s Jacksonville Community Council Inc. Quality of Life study, 65 percent of those surveyed said they felt safe when walking alone in their neighborhood at night. The number hit a low of 40 percent in 1996, but has been steadily climbing since. Even with Downtown Ambassadors acting as hospitality escorts in the city’s core, a strong police presence — which the stop station provides — is welcomed by those working late or visiting downtown at night.
There are 51 stop stations scattered throughout Jacksonville. Sites are donated by landlords, businesses or individuals who realize the worth of a location where police officers are always coming and going.
“We like to increase our presence in neighborhoods needing impact,” said Reagan.