People feel safe in Jax, but approval of JSO is declining

Published on March 16, 2023 at 4:18 pm

The vast majority of Jacksonville residents feel safe in their neighborhoods, and most approve of the work of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. But the agency’s favorable ratings are dropping.

Eighty-seven percent in a recent survey by the University of North Florida agreed strongly or somewhat strongly that they feel safe in their neighborhoods. That was up from 84% the year before.

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A majority — 64% — think Jacksonville as a whole is safe, and 53% approve of the way the Sheriff’s Office is doing its job.

Still, the community survey, done late last year, shows the agency’s overall approval dropping from 70% in 2021. That was mirrored in a separate disapproval rating, which rose from 24% in 2021 to 33% last year.

The Sheriff’s Office said no one was available to comment about the survey and what the department might do with the results. But the office said it is always striving to improve.

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The boundaries of the city’s patrol areas are under review, the department said in a statement. The administration of Sheriff T.K. Waters “is optimistic that the new divisions will address issues, provide a greater police presence throughout the city, and help make Jacksonville a safer place to live and work.”

Survey background

The Sheriff’s Office contracted with UNF’s Public Opinion Research Lab in 2016 to conduct a multiyear study to measure community attitudes and opinions on public safety and law enforcement in the city. Surveys were conducted in 2016, 2018, 2021 and 2022.

The 2022 survey yielded 1,697 results by telephone and online between late November and Dec. 27. The respondents were 52% female, the rest male. Thirty-three percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher. Fifty-two percent were white, 29% Black, 10% Hispanic or Latino, and 9% other. The survey did not include the Beaches communities, which have their own police departments.

The Sheriff’s Office posted a link to the survey on its Facebook page this week as well as selected questions, which JSO said showed “high approval ratings in several critically important areas.”


The department highlighted these points:

  • Respondents throughout the city unanimously agreed that they would like to see an increase in visible presence/patrolling.
  • The top three public safety concerns remain the same with 42% concerned about gun violence followed by homelessness (20%) and mental health (14%).
  • More than half of the respondents (54%) agree that JSO does a good job at handling complex investigations.
  • Only 38% of respondents think that JSO has enough officers to meet the city’s needs.
  • 92% of respondents in Patrol Zone 3 (Southside) feel safe in their neighborhood followed by Zone 2 (Arlington and Intracoastal West), Zone 4 (Riverside, Avondale, Ortega and the Westside) and Zone 6 (Northside, San Mateo and Oceanway), all rating in the high eighties.

Respondents also were polled about the handling of complex investigations, investigation of officer shootings, follow-up on allegations of police misconduct and reporting back to the community about its findings on police misconduct.

The Sheriff’s Office’s responded on Facebook that the results have decreased since the initial UNF survey in 2016, but the sheriff “recognizes this as an area for improvement” and pledges to be transparent with the community about investigations.

Other findings

Jacksonville Today reviewed the full survey to assess residents’ feelings about safety and interactions with the Sheriff’s Office.

SAFETY: The percentage of respondents who reported feeling safe has remained largely steady since 2018, with a slight uptick in 2022.

Residents also feel overwhelming safe in the areas they frequent — 81% in the 2022 survey, up 1 percentage point from 2018 and 2021. But notably fewer — 64% — think Jacksonville is a safe place overall.


JSO APPROVAL: Approval was highest in Riverside, Avondale, Ortega and the Westside (Zone 4) and in Downtown, Springfield and the Eastside (Zone 1). Fifty-eight percent of respondents in those areas said they approve of the job the Sheriff’s Office is doing. Approval was lowest in the Northwest, New Town and Baldwin (Zone 5), with 50% approving either somewhat or strongly.

Race made a difference. White residents gave the Sheriff’s Office the highest rating, 59%, compared with 47% among Black respondents. Approval totaled 52% among Hispanic and Latino respondents and 55% among those of another race or ethnicity.

Those who said they had called police for help were slightly less likely to approve of JSO and slightly more likely to disapprove than those who did not call police, the survey said.

JSO BEHAVIOR: The top two complaints about the Sheriff’s Office were that personnel were rude, arrogant or dismissive or that they were unresponsive, ineffective or incompetent.

People in Zone 6 (Northside, San Mateo, and Oceanway) and Zone 2 (Arlington and Intracoastal West) had the greatest percentage of respondents answering rude/arrogant/dismissive — 37%.

Zone 4 (Riverside, Avondale, Ortega and the Westside) selected unresponsive/ineffective/incompetent as their biggest complaint, also at 37%.

Black respondents most often called police rude and dismissive (32%), and white respondents indicated unresponsive/ineffective (37%).

Among Hispanic and Latino respondents, the most common response was assuming guilt and victim-blaming, with 33%. Racism and racial profiling was reported at much higher rates among Black and Hispanic residents (17%) and (13%) than white respondents (2%).

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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