Merchants, JSO discuss safety measures in Park and King corridor

Three weeks after the murder of Daniel Rowe, a busboy at the Blind Rabbit restaurant on King Street, area merchants had the chance to sit down with eight members of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and discuss crime in the Park and King retail corridor, as well as the measures being taken by the JSO to combat it.

“We’re looking at everything – staff numbers, crime statistics, adjusting resources, and working on bringing more officers to Zone 4,” said Ray Walden, new Director of the Department of Patrol and Enforcement, and previous Commander of Patrol Zone 4, which includes the Park and King area. “The area here is getting better, but there are challenges due to the growth of businesses. This is no longer a residential area.”

Larry Gayle, the new Zone 4 Commander, noted JSO fields more than one million calls annually, with 26.6 percent in Zone 4. Duval County is divided into six law enforcement zones, which are divided into nine sub-sectors.

“I personally feel a need to take care of this zone,” said Gayle, who grew up in the area.

911 response times questioned

Blind Rabbit owners Anne Stanford and her son, Jeff, were vocal about their disappointment in dispatch response times. Rowe’s murder wasn’t the first incident in the past three years that prompted staff to pick up the phone and call 911 for help, but recently they have given up.

“Prior to the shooting, we just quit calling,” said Anne Stanford. “The response times were 30 to 45 minutes, sometimes an hour and a half. We quit calling you because you flat don’t respond.”

Earlier this spring, unruly customers disturbed the lunch hour, threatening employees; the same customers returned a month later, tried to leave with an unpaid tab and threatened to beat the general manager, who happened to be Jeff’s pregnant wife.

Assistant Chief Adam Pendley, who manages the Police Communications Section, noted the officers were handling a domestic dispute when the call came in. The 14 minutes it took for the officers to respond to the lunch time incident probably felt like 45, he said.

“You have every right to be upset,” Pendley told the Stanfords. “The murder has amplified the issue. The spotlight this terrible incident has put on this area will give us all an opportunity to do something a little bit better. Our perspective in this area is very keen right now because of Daniel’s murder.”

Pendley urged all the merchants to “hit the re-set button, reboot, and give us a chance to make a difference moving forward.”

Changes in place, more to come

Commander Gayle said some changes that have already been put in place include the clean-up of overgrowth in the alley behind the Blind Rabbit and the other businesses in that block. “We asked the JEA to increase the lighting back there,” he said. The Stanfords also added more lighting around their restaurant.

Pendley offered advice to the business owners for dealing with crimes in progress at their establishments. “Make sure all employees know the street address,” he said. “Don’t get frustrated by all the questions [the 911 operator will ask], because the police are already on the way.”

Disappointed because Sheriff Mike Williams and Undersheriff Pat Ivey were not able to make the meeting due to budget hearings, the Stanfords had requests of their own.

“The amount of unreported crime [in this block] would blow your mind on a day-to-day basis,” said Jeff. “I urge for an increase of patrols between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.”

Anne concurred, asking for a “continuous, consistent presence in the neighborhood. We need to be concerned about this [the murder] happening again.”

District 14 Councilman Jim Love, who owns an insurance agency across the street from the Blind Rabbit and next door to Kickbacks Gastropub, said he has installed cameras and additional lights on his building and cut back the landscaping around it.

Officer James Anderson, with the Crime-Free Multi-Housing Unit, said every single business in the Park and King area has lighting and landscaping issues. He also noted the street lighting there is not sufficient at 70 watts.

Love said he is working with the Public Works Department to get energy-efficient LED lighting at a higher wattage installed on King Street.

Watch groups encouraged

There are also efforts by Riverside Avondale Preservation to have a community watch group started in the Park and King retail area. Kevin Kuzel, who is on RAP’s Public Safety Committee, said their goal this year is to ask all the major commercial merchants associations to be part of a neighborhood watch group.

Officer Michael Duckworth, who has been the beat officer in Riverside and Avondale for many years, said neighborhood watch groups were very effective, citing the RAP Neighborhood Watch up near 5 Points as being very active.

“The neighbors come out and stop us on the golf cart and tell us stuff,” he said. “They don’t call downtown [the non-emergency number].”

Duckworth is due to retire in December, on the heels of last month’s retirement of the community’s other long-time beat officer, T.C. Edwards. Both officers regularly patrolled on golf carts and bicycles, and engaged with the residents to provide a calming presence to prevent minor issues from escalating into major ones.

“It has changed a lot since I first trained here under that guy [pointing to Ray Walden] over 25 years ago. These types of gatherings never occurred back then,” said Duckworth. “We’re fortunate to be involved in these types of groups as residents, as officers and as business owners. That long ago we didn’t have this opportunity to come together and work with the community.”

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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