JSO gets state grants for projects
by Mike Sharkey
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has gotten two grants from the Florida Department of Transportation worth over $300,000 total. One grant worth just over $44,000 will allow JSO to hire a crime analyst who will dedicate their time to solving traffic issues and analyzing traffic data. The other grant, worth over $250,000, will allow JSO to put even more unmarked vehicles on the street and implement other measures all designed to lower the number of traffic accidents around town.
Matthew White is the manager of JSO’s Crime Analysis Unit and will oversee the new position. White said there are 12 crime analysts on staff right now, but the grant will allow for a new position and it will likely be filled by someone outside of JSO.
“The prime focus will be traffic data,” said White, who has been with JSO for four years.
White explained that with a dedicated traffic data analyst on staff, JSO will be able to more quickly and thoroughly analyze the drivers and the vehicles involved. The job will also entail deciphering which are the most dangerous intersections in town while looking for ways to reduce the number of accidents at those intersections.
White said the prevention of accidents — which lead to increased traffic congestion — isn’t just a police issue. Often accidents are the result of what he calls “structural issues” at various intersections: things like blind turns, dangerous entrances to businesses and unsafe medians.
White said he is in the process of reviewing applicants and hopes to start phone interviews this week.
“Analysis has come a long way and there are a lot of talented people,” he said. “We will probably hire a couple of intelligence analysts, also.”
The traffic analyst will also be responsible for creating a detailed, integrated database for analysis of problem areas, problem situations, dangerous intersections and repeat accident locations.
Chief David Stevens will oversee and implement the other grant, most of which will go towards the purchase of unmarked JSO vehicles.
“We will target aggressive driving with three to four unmarked vehicles,” said Stevens. “We will also purchase message boards, lasers to gauge speed and other traffic enforcement equipment.”
Stevens defines aggressive driving as moving at a higher rate in and out of traffic and cutting off other drivers.
“It is a problem in this city,” he said, explaining that all the road work going on today can make aggressive driving even worse. Drivers, he said, tend to make up for lost time sitting in traffic by driving well in excess of the posted speed limits and weaving in and out of traffic.
“Their impatience shows,” said Stevens, adding another major problem on Jacksonville roadways these days is the apparent disregard for stop lights and signs. “A lot of it is the time it takes to commute. People use every opportunity they can to get through the light.”
Some enforcement is being done already to curb this trend and more is coming. Stevens said officers sit at an intersection facing away from the traffic light. However, their cars are rigged with a light that turns white when the light turns red. The officer can then easily see how many vehicles run the light.
In the near future Jacksonville residents may want to think twice about running those red lights and stop signs. Stevens said he is looking into installing cameras at busy intersections that would snap photos of the license plates of drivers who runs lights. Those drivers would get a ticket and proof they ran the light in the mail.
“We are in the process of working with a company called Red Flex to install that here,” said Stevens. “We are exploring the possibility, but we would have to have a municipal ordinance written. I think it would help a lot.”