Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams told a group of Downtown business owners he shares their concern about the vagrant population in the Urban Core.
Williams spoke Tuesday at the Downtown Vision Inc. quarterly meeting, spending a considerable amount of the hour addressing homelessness in Jacksonville.
Many of the almost 50 people in attendance asked Williams about patrol numbers, filing complaints and dealing with homeless individuals exhibiting mental health issues.
Williams said JSO response times are based on priority.
“When a call comes in we prioritize it against other calls,” Williams said.
“If you call about a barking dog, and then 10 minutes later someone else calls about a suspicious person in their neighborhood, that officer is going to reroute to deal with a suspicious person.”
Williams asked property managers and business owners to do their part by calling JSO and filing a complaint when they believe something isn’t right.
“Everything we do is data-driven,” Williams said. “We look at trends to determine which areas need the most attention at any given time.”
When it comes to people showing signs of mental health issues, Williams said there’s only so much JSO can do.
“We can use the Baker Act, but they’re likely to be back on the same street in two to three days if a doctor feels like they don’t need treatment,” he said.
He said his department is working with local nonprofits to help people get back on their feet.
“If we can get our hands on about 300 people, we could change the landscape of Downtown,” he said, referring to a statistic given to him from a local nonprofit that works with the homeless population.
Overall, Williams said Downtown is one of the safest neighborhoods in Jacksonville.
“We have to fight the perception that Downtown isn’t a safe place,” he said. “Maybe that means more staffing and we’re working on that part.”
Williams referred to other larger cities, which have prioritized placing police officers “on every corner or close to it.”
“Presence is a big deal,” he said. “It makes people feel safe and I believe it prevents a crime before someone can commit one.”
The city intends to rezone nearly 90 acres along the Downtown Northbank called the Shipyards ahead of a proposed multibillion-dollar mixed-use development.
In December the city will introduce legislation to rezone the property from Planned Unit Development, Public Buildings and Facilities and Recreational and Open Space to Downtown Central Business District.
Although the city owns the property, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan intends to develop the site into a mix of office space, hotels, a convention center and other uses.
The property still is contaminated from its commercial past as an active shipyard.
In April, Khan’s plans showed most of his development near Metropolitan Park and Lot J at TIAA Bank Field.
Development on the westernmost parcel is likely less intense because of the contamination.