The Gainesville Police Department held a town hall to discuss the progress achieved by the department during 2017 and consult the public about a new crime prevention strategy.
GPD Chief of Police, Tony Jones, addressed the public Tuesday evening at Gainesville High School, by first commending GPD officers for their efforts during Hurricane Irma.
“The men and women of Gainesville Police Department, the rest of the city of Gainesville, my hats off to them,” Jones said. “This thing came in; it came in kind of fast, and we had to respond as a police agency and still respond to calls for service.”
Jones then outlined the department’s successful management of the Richard Spencer visit, which included thousands of out-of-town police and an operation plan with the goal of zero violent incidents.
Aside from the arrests of three men who fired a gunshot at protesters after the event, Jones said no violent incidents were reported.
“We learned a lot from this,” Jones said. “Did we make some mistakes? Yes… but I think overall we did well.”
After discussing department response, Jones discussed violent crime, which rose 8.4 percent from 2016’s rate. Jones said the increase can be attributed to more reports of sexual assault, which he believes were a result of a department effort to encourage victims to come forward and report abuse.
In addition to seeing more victim abuse reporting, Jones said the department also saw a decline in the number of arrested black youth by 57.3 percent since 2014. The department reported 290 juvenile arrests in 2017 compared with 614 in 2014.
In 2012, GPD began its Disproportionate Minority Contact Initiative to address the rate of black youth in the juvenile justice system – a number four times greater than that of white youth.
“When we have 23 to 24 percent of the population were African American youth between the ages of 10 and 17, and they were referred to the Juvenile Justice system something between 70 and 80 percent, we have an issue,” Jones said.
Although Jones has seen continued progress within the department, he said it has lost many officers to retirement, resignation and from federal and municipality agency recruiting. While GPD is allotted 307 sworn officers, the department currently staffs 279.
“We’re hurting for police officers folks,” Jones said.
While Jones encourages all those interested in joining the force to contact the department, he says the will not diminish the vigor of training for officers.
“I will not compromise on the quality of personnel that wear this uniform,” Jones said. “Make no mistake about that.”
Jones also took time at the end of the meeting to acknowledge Gainesville school resource officers, particularly in the wake of the Parkland shooting. In 2017, the Gainesville SROs were named Unit of the Year by the Florida Association School Resource Officers.
“If danger presents itself, we will engage the threat. We’re not going to wait for backup. We’re not going to set up a perimeter and call things in,” Jones said. “My instruction to them is [to]engage. What do I mean by that? (They) are going to impact the threat.”
In the coming year, Jones said that GPD will be looking to the public for input on a strategic plan aimed at effectively reducing, solving and preventing crime. Jones said that officers will be consulting members of the community through anonymous surveys that were available to those who attended the town hall that night.