Gainesville has been scrambling for methods to tame its rampant gun violence problem since the pandemic, but unexpected administrative changes have presented challenges to proposed preventative policies.
In an October 2021 city commission meeting, former Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones unveiled the department’s One Community initiative to combat the city’s uptick in violence. However, the program’s future was uncertain as Lonnie Scott was appointed the new police chief after Jones became the city’s interim chief operating officer in January.
Through the initiative, the department would implement a variety of innovative strategies to hinder the increase in crime, Jones said. By August 2021, The Gainesville Police Department had already fielded 35 calls of shooting-related injuries, a jump from the 17 total calls in 2020. The city received $32 million from the American Rescue Plan Act in June 2021 and aims to allocate a portion of these funds toward the police department.
GPD also held a firearm buyback event in October in an effort to curb gun violence.. The event was hosted by Big Daddy Guns, and attendees were offered up to $300 in Visa gift cards for turning in their firearms. The department collected 80 firearms, which prompted the leaders to consider another event in 2022.
Gun buybacks are intended to provide an outlet for gun owners to avoid the threat of being prosecuted and turn in any illegal or unwanted firearms without any questions asked. Recent studies have determined that gun buybacks can be an effective method in reducing violent crime when paired with other intervention methods.
The initiative also entailed consistent meetings between the Gainesville Police Advisory Council and high-ranked members of the police department. The council aims to offer a transparent platform for residents to provide police with useful insight about how to best serve the community. The group met with interim Chief Lonnie Scott on Jan. 26 to discuss violent crime statistics.
Fareed Johnson, chair of the advisory council, said he recognizes that forming an effective liaison between the police and the community can harbor a better understanding. Johnson presented the idea of establishing a youth apprenticeship program with the city, particularly with its law enforcement departments.
“As someone who has served in the Air Force, and with previous experience in law enforcement, I am aware that there can be a disconnect between the police and the community,” he said. “Organizations like ours help bridge this gap by rounding up community voices to provide law enforcement with a better understanding of the inner workings of these neighborhoods.”
In his speech at the October meeting, Jones revisited the concept of implementing violence interrupters throughout Gainesville’s low-income communities. Violence interruption promotes communication between strong communal figures and the community’s residents.
Although some residents may not trust law enforcement, the concept promotes the idea that these issues may be put to rest if a trusted person intervenes before the matter escalates.
Jones introduced the idea at a previous meeting and mentioned Alachua County’s Black on Black Crime Task Force, possibly spearheading the effort. Originally established in 1988 by Rosa Williams, the task force strives to combat crime in urban communities by welcoming communal feedback.
The group uses immersive group-building tactics to gather young people in the community for meetings, often scheduling local business and civil rights leaders as guest speakers, Williams said. The program is in its developmental stages and is still without a timeframe.
“We need to continue to develop new tactics to reach these kids,” she said. “As the years go by, the children involved in these violent crimes are younger and younger. The younger someone is, the more easily influenced they are.”
In 2020, the US saw it’s highest single-year rise in murder rates since the FBI began releasing crime statistics more than 60 years ago. Although there is no definite reason for this increase, it occurred amid a pandemic and a national reckoning on race. This sudden combination of events has the potential to induce tension and form a distrust of authoritative figures.
Tiffany Jenson, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Criminology & Law at the University of Florida, acknowledged that the recent hindrances the nation has endured can explain the growth in violence. Although nearly three years have gone by, the aftermath still ruminates through communities across the nation.
“It is critical to recognize that although murder rates have risen exponentially, the people that make up the country have not changed,” Jenson said. “What has changed are the circumstances that these people have been faced with as of late.
Jenson said the increase in crime may be a natural response to unexpected hardships.
“If this generation’s youth feel that they have more of a need to defend themselves at a young age, they are prone to stray down the wrong path when they are the most vulnerable.”