Increasing gun violence prompts Gainesville Police Department special meeting with city commission

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City Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker quoted a mother who had lost her son to gun violence last year in Gainesville: “Gun violence doesn’t just kill the victim. It kills everybody that is attached to him or her.”

Duncan-Walker offered the mother’s perspective during a special city commission meeting held Monday to address the issue of gun violence and its impact on Gainesville.

“It’s going to take us all, because I refuse to allow it to continue to kill us all,” she said.

Chief Tony Jones and other high-ranking Gainesville Police Department officials met with the commission to discuss the scope of the problem and how they are attempting to combat it.

Gainesville has seen violent crime continually increase over the past few years, according to reports kept by GPD. In 2015, the department reported 930 cases of violent crime. Last year, it counted 1,042 such cases. As of Oct. 12, the department logged 881 violent crimes in 2021. At the current pace, the city would reach 1,128 offenses by Dec. 31, resulting in an 8% increase from 2020.

Since Jan. 1, there have been 118 firearms reported stolen within city limits, including four in August and 16 in September, Chief Inspector Jamie Kurnick told the commission.

The number of firearms seized by authorities increased from 23 in August to 38 in September, Kurnick said. During these two months, the city saw a decrease in the number of verified incidents of shots fired and people who were shot or injured, she said.

Describing gun violence as a public health issue, Jones and other police officials outlined the details of the “One Community” initiative that the GPD launched in August. 

They called it a bottom-up approach, starting with neighbors talking among themselves and then to the police officers and sergeants assigned to their community.

“Stats don’t tell you everything,” Jones said. “You have to talk to people. How safe do you feel? How safe do you feel in your community?”

Noting that the GPD currently has two officers per 1,000 residents, Assistant Chief Lonnie Scott said that a key goal of “One Community” is to make citizens feel that police are a part of their community.

“We’re trying to make sure that the folks we deal with on a day-to-day basis feel empowered to direct how we police them,” Scott said.

Kurnick said it is too early to tell if what has been implemented so far has impacted statistics.

“I wish I could say yes, the initiative led to these changes, but this allows us to know where we’re starting from,” she said.  

With 66 of the 118 firearms reported stolen being from unsecured vehicles, police said, “One Community” is also focused on having residents check that they have locked their cars at night. 

The GPD will soon reinstate a routine to post on Facebook and Twitter at 9 p.m. to remind people to do so. The routine was used between December 2019 and April 2020.

City Commissioner Reina Saco praised the program: “It reminded me every single night to go lock my car. Of course, the one day I didn’t see it on Facebook, my car was broken into.”

The GPD also plans on having a gun buy-back program, with the first event set for Oct. 30. The department will offer gift cards to those who turn in a gun. The buy-back program would incentivize community members to trade in firearms with a promise of anonymity. 

“People are able to return those guns without fear of being, quite frankly, hunted down,” Scott said.

Jones said the GPD also plans to invest in Gainesville’s youth and young adults. He referenced studies that show that people who have witnessed violence and live in areas conducive to it, with access to weapons, have a higher probability of engaging in violent activity. 

Duncan-Walker advocated for providing children with arts and cultural programs, in hopes of removing them from potentially violent situations. She discussed how children have told her they would like to see guns off the streets and stronger gun control measures enacted.

When she asked what the city could do to help them, the children told Duncan-Walker that they needed, “something to do and places to go,” the commissioner said. They specifically asked for martial arts, chess club, rugby, gymnastics, theater and other programs and activities. 

“There is a reason that I am reading this list,” she said. “It is because this is what our young people are telling us and I believe it is incredibly important for us to listen and heed what they are saying.”

“One Community” also offers a “gang education” component for parents and has prepared a social media campaign urging them to be aware of where their children are. 

Jones said the initiative can only be effective if citizens work together as a community. 

“We cannot succeed if we are divided,” the chief said. 

Mayor Lauren Poe thanked Jones and the GPD for their work in developing “One Community.”

Duncan-Walker said she plans on keeping the department accountable and that the community should do the same. 

“We need this to be successful,” she said.

About Megan Hartnett

Megan is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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