Separating fact from fiction: Downtown Jacksonville safety


For some people, Wednesday night’s shooting during Art Walk renewed concerns about safety in downtown Jacksonville.

“Sheer terror,” said mother Justine Watkins, who had just left the library with her 2-year-old on Thursday afternoon. “I didn’t hear about that until I got here. I don’t think we would be here today if I had heard about it.”

City Councilman Reggie Gaffney said he spent Thursday morning on the phone with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. The heart of Jacksonville’s downtown is in his district.

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“We may need more officers. But I don’t want the city as a whole to think that this is an unsafe environment. It’s not. I mean, this is the first shooting of this kind in years that I know of,” said Gaffney.

Action News Jax mapped out downtown crime within a two-mile radius of the shooting.

There were 12 reports of violent crimes in the past week downtown, mostly assaults.

Compare that to nearby Moncrief, where there have been 26.

In the past month downtown, 88 violent crimes were reported.

In Moncrief, there were 130 reported violent crimes in the same time period.

Those maps show reports of crimes, not arrests or investigations.

There is rarely a crime downtown that warrants media coverage.

Still, Gaffney said the stigma remains.

“Well, I think often when you come down here you see lots of homeless individuals that often walk around here. You see lots of blighted area,” said Gaffney.

It’s still a hard sell for Watkins.

“The culture of Jacksonville is what I love about it and I want her to experience as much of that as possible. But it’s getting to the point where it’s too scary to,” said Watkins.

Gaffney also fears businesses will reconsider moving downtown.

“Incidents like this take us back,” said Gaffney. “And if I heard of what happened last night, I’m going to ask my leaders if this is where you really want to put our company. We want to spend millions of dollars to be in an unsafe environment? And most companies are going to say no.”

Just this week, theater company The 5 & Dime moved into its new space downtown on East Adams Street, blocks away from the shooting.

“I feel more comfortable downtown sometimes than I do my own neighborhood in northside Jacksonville,” said managing director Lee Hamby.

Hamby said me he was worried about the shooting at first, but feels better now that he knows JSO believes the victims were targeted, not random.

Hamby said he’s a little concerned the shooting will discourage people from seeking the arts downtown.

“I do, but I think there are things that discourage them more, unfortunately, like parking,” said Hamby.

In the meantime, Gaffney said the shooting is a wake-up call for city leaders.

“So we realize we’ve really now got to put our heads together because we want future companies to feel safe, that downtown Jacksonville is going to be thriving,’ said Gaffney.

The organization Downtown Vision issued a statement on Thursday that said in part that it is “deeply troubled” by the shooting, but the group would not answer any questions about the potential impact on businesses.