Increase in local crimes prompts campus safety


Action News Jax

Police mark off the Gate gas station hours after the Dec. 15 shooting.

Tenesha Green, Contributing Writer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -“R.I.P Martin. You were such a bright smile. You will be missed.”

This message, along with a picture of 55-year-old gas station clerk Martin Howard, can be found at the checkout counter at the Gate gas station on Merrill Road.

In early morning of Dec. 15, while students were eagerly waiting to go home for winter break, Howard was murdered during an attempted robbery of the gas station.

Then, two more shootings in recent weeks. A murder at the 24hr Coin Laundry. And then at the MetroPCS, an employee shot and wounded a suspected armed robber. Both places are on Merrill Road.

Community leaders and Jacksonville University’s security team have taken extra safety precautions because of these crimes.

Pastor Lorenzo Rosas, pastor at Terry Parker Baptist Church for the past eight years, explains how the crime has affected him and his members.

“The shootings do have us a little concerned,” he said. “We meet every Sunday at 5 o’clock, and by the time we finish it is 6:30, and it’s dark outside.”

One minute away from the church is a Gate gas station. The same Gate gas station that holds the picture of Martin Howard at the checkout counter.

“After the shooting at the gas station we put cameras around the church,” Rosas said. “In order to help our members feel a little bit safer.”

So what is Jacksonville University doing to protect its students and visitors?

Kevin Bennett, director of campus security for the past five years, has tightened up security in areas that he says were more relaxed in previous years.

“We are stricter at the front gate with visitors,” he said. “We are going to stop you and get your name and ask to see your ID, as well as write down all of your vehicle information. That way if something happens we can quickly identify who the visitors are to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.”

Bennett has even implemented a new program that gets students involved with safety and security.

“We have hired students that we call ‘auxiliary officers,’” Bennett said. “They wear bright yellow shirts and have access to the golf carts.”

All students have to do is call campus security and ask for a student escort and an auxiliary officer will come.

“They will escort students back and forth across campus,” Bennett said. “This not only promotes safety and security but allows students to get to know each other.”

For Bennett, half the battle is deterrence.

“We have increased our visibility on campus,” he said. “That way it becomes harder for a person to even think about harming the campus.”

Although new programs have been implemented, some students would like more discussion of what has been happening. Analaygra Brown, a junior psychology major is one of them.

“I think campus security could hold more talks after a major crime happens near us,” she said. “I think it would make students feel a little bit safer. It would also give us a platform to voice our opinion.”

And students are not going to just stay on campus the entire time.

Officer Christian Hancock, a 24-year veteran with JSO, is one of the two Public Information Officers for the departement. He has some tips to help students stay safe while off campus.

“Know where you’re going and have alternate routes of travel,” he said. “Always look at your surroundings, not your electronics. Also, be very cautious at night by using the buddy system. Finally, always lock residences and car doors upon leaving.”

Bennett also wants to leave JU with a positive thought about what campus security is doing for them.

“We will never allow comfort and convenience to get in the way of safety and security,” he said. “When it comes to the safety and security of JU we will not cease, we will not stop.”