UNF study: Jacksonville remains in the running for murder capitol of Florida

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By Cecilia Podrecca

Jacksonville’s murder rate remains nearly the highest in the state, according to a UNF study.

A study, which supplemented the documentary film “The 904”, was designed and intended to encourage a deeper conversation about violence in Jacksonville.

Led by UNF Criminology and Criminal Justice Department Chair Michael Hallett, students analyzed the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) data on violent crime rates for the study. The data shows that, statistically, Duval County is tied with the Miami-Dade area for being the murder capital of the state, a title Duval County has held for the past 11 years.

Duval’s murder rate per 100,000 people is 8.99, while Miami-Dade’s is 9.03. The difference is insignificant enough that statisticians are reluctant to call Jacksonville number two.

“It’s an absurd conversation to talk about celebrating being the number two city in murder and violent crime rates in Florida,” Hallet said. “We’ve been at or near the top of this scale for over a decade, and it’s nothing to celebrate.”

After examining the FDLE crime statistics for the first half of 2011, the students also found that while Miami-Dade’s murder rate is decreasing, Duval’s is increasing.

The study’s data and statistics examined the time and number of incidences it took for the Jacksonville community to muster a formal response to violent crime rates and homicide. Violent crimes, as defined by the FDLE, are aggravated assault, forcible sex offenses, robbery and murder.

“My direct experience in the system furthered my understanding the inefficiencies of policing on violent crimes, as well as the public’s misplaced dependence upon police to fix the problem,” said Kevin LaRose-Renner, an intern in the UNF criminal justice program.

The community needs additional programs to assess and condemn violent crimes, he said.

The community’s failure to fully understand the violent crime issue inhibits change, and media coverage may be partly to blame.

“This project was also a detailed content analysis on the media misconceptions of the emphasis on homicide. The media fails to depict the importance of all violent crimes, which just leads to a lack of action on the overall issue,” said Laura Davie, a UNF criminology graduate student.

UNF students Robert Farley and Sigrid Wellhausen both said the study’s results didn’t make them feel less safe, but both agree that the problems need to be addressed.

“The point of the study isn’t to inflict fear but to display the data and hope for a community-based effort to fix it.” Wellhausen said.

The most important and rewarding part of this study, Hallett said, is the opportunity given to undergraduate students to really partake in the criminal justice system — to study, learn, and contribute to the society.

“This project was a not-so-gentle reminder that we haven’t solved violence in Jacksonville, and we’ve still got a substantial amount of unsolved issues — particularly concerning firearms,” Hallett said.

The project’s findings will be presented Nov. 29 in the Student Union ballroom from 6 to 8 p.m. Data on the overall crime rates in Jacksonville, and an assessment of the media coverage issues will be discussed. The event is open to the public and free of charge.