Jacksonville Beach Police Chief proposes safety measures after deadly St. Patrick’s Day shootings

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. — The Jacksonville Beach police chief issued a report on the three shootings, including one that turned deadly on St. Patrick’s Day.

READ: Jacksonville Beach shootings: Timeline of events that left 1 dead, 3 injured on St. Patrick’s Day

Chief Gene Paul Smith says the deadly shooting began with an unsanctioned gathering, and now, he is proposing some new safety policies.

In the report, Chief Smith said the three separate shootings from St. Patrick’s Day made him “angry,” but also left him with “the unimaginable weight of command.”

He made these comments during an April city council meeting.

“There’s a lot of systemic issues that we’ve been warning about in the police department for 30 years, and it just kind of moves on after we’re done,” Chief Smith said. “We pass an ordinance and then we move on. So, if you want to get to systemic issues, I suggest we talk about it next week.”

In the report, Chief Smith said, “Despite everything stacked against our officers, they prevented any further criminal acts, and both safeguarded and evacuated thousands of people.”

The chief said the violence stemmed from a social media post advertising a large gathering on the beach Sunday. This ad ultimately led to a boxing match on the beach that night, and after police dispersed the crowds, the shootings began.

In the report, he said, “During the second shooting, there was concern that two of my officers may have been lost based on garbled and panicked radio transmissions.”

The chief said part of the problem is staffing and technology issues – especially with the city cameras not working.

As recently reported, the city of Jax Beach was hacked in January and the police chief says they are still working to catch up on three months of work from that.

The report says the Jax Beach PD has 67 sworn officers and only 52 front-line officers which means about 4-5 officers per shift. Chief Smith said of the roughly 1,200 people they arrested last year, 90% did not live in the city.


The chief now wants to focus on recruiting new officers and finding ways to retain current officers to deal with staff shortages.

Corey Wallace lives in Jax Beach and stated how he agrees with the chief but has some reservations.

“People are still going to do what they’re going to do,” Wallace said. “You could have a thousand cops out here and people are going to be fools when they want to be fools – this is Jacksonville.”

Chief Smith also suggested considering laws to fine unpermitted gatherings. An ordinance to address this was discussed in the March 18th city council meeting. A special events moratorium was requested for 120 days but was voted down in April.

Mayor Chris Hoffman told Action News Jax. It would affect the well-run events like Spring in the Blues or Deck the Chairs.

“They bring people but they have the accountability to the people that they’re bringing downtown,” Mayor Hoffman said. “It really didn’t solve the problem. The problem is with the events that are kind of operating in that gray area, we’re a public beach.”

Adding to that, this weekend is expected to have hundreds of people on Jax Beach, as the city hosts its first ever ‘Beach Fest,’ which kicks off Friday. And festivities continue all the way to Sunday ending with the 77th annual ‘Opening of the Beaches’ parade.

Chief Smith also recommends an increase in paid parking fees during “peak problem times.”

“To have to pay $10/15 for a parking space ehh people probably won’t want to come here as much,” Wallace said.

The report concludes saying they will have a clear path forward if they can get an answer to the question, “What do you want downtown to be?”

[SIGN UP: Action News Jax Daily Headlines Newsletter]

Click here to download the free Action News Jax news and weather apps, click here to download the Action News Jax Now app for your smart TV and click here to stream Action News Jax live.