Cellphone video shows large crowds of people on the beach Sunday night near the pier in Jacksonville Beach on March 17, 2024. Two people are seen fighting in the sand. | Jacksonville Beach Police DepartmentCellphone video shows large crowds of people on the beach Sunday night near the pier in Jacksonville Beach on March 17, 2024. Two people are seen fighting in the sand. | Jacksonville Beach Police Department
Cellphone video shows large crowds of people on the beach Sunday night near the pier in Jacksonville Beach on March 17, 2024. Two people are seen fighting in the sand. | Jacksonville Beach Police Department

Jax Beach considers options to stem unruly crowds

Published on April 11, 2024 at 2:40 pm

Jacksonville Beach city leaders are considering several actions to improve public safety in the wake of three shootings March 17, including reining in unauthorized events and increasing parking fees.

One person was killed and three others injured on St. Patrick’s Day in a string of shootings in the heart of the city.

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City Council members met this week to discuss public safety and a new police report containing safety recommendations.

City leaders agreed to look into a possible ordinance that would outlaw events that don’t have permits. Events like family gatherings or political speech would be exempted.

Mayor Christine Hoffman said the city can reduce unpermitted events by being aggressive in messaging, prevention and enforcement.

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“I really think we should be scrappy on social media, and if we see these types of events I think we should be commenting. I think we should be tagging the promoters in our social media. I think we have the opportunity as a small city to be nimble in what we do there,” Hoffman said.           

Other possible measures include raising parking fees, with exceptions for city residents and workers east of 3rd Street; holding organizers legally liable for anything that happens during unpermitted events; and recruiting and retaining more police officers. 

None of the ideas discussed during the meeting are final, and there is no timetable for when City Council might vote.

The council’s first attempt at taking action, a proposed moratorium on special event permits, was shelved April 8. The mayor said the proposal would have caused more harm than good.

According to the police report on safety recommendations, the three shootings on St. Patrick’s Day were not related to any special event in the city. At least one of the shootings was related to an unpermitted gathering at the beach, and all three shooting suspects are likely to have attended the event.

Before St. Patrick’s Day, police said they received a tip about a large gathering advertised on social media. The poster promoted “Drunk Day at the Beach” and called for people to bring boxing gloves.

The first shooting took place near the Jax Beach Pier just before 8 p.m. after police broke up a large group of people surrounding two people fighting on the beach. The second incident occurred when a man in a ski mask ran past a bar on 3rd Avenue around 8:15 p.m. and fired a gun. 

According to a police report released this week, police believe the suspect in that shooting was attempting to fire his gun at a police officer who was following the suspect.

The final shooting — the slaying of James Jones III — happened in the Sneakers Sports Grille parking lot just after 8:30 p.m.

Police Chief Gene Paul Smith reiterated this week that his department is seven officers short, but he said six or seven new officers are ready to come on board by the end of this week. When fully staffed, the police department would have 67 officers, but Smith said the city should hire more officers to prevent the disruption of services due to staffing fluctuations.

“To sustain the level of service that ultimately that [city officials] fix into place, I have to have more people,” Smith said. “Now if you want to decrease that service level, for instance, a callback instead of the next day or day after on speeding complaints, if you want to give it a week or two weeks or a month, we can deal with that. I just can’t do it on the current staffing that I have,” Smith said.

Police leadership and city officials plan soon to discuss how many officers could be hired. Ultimately, the number hired would need approval from City Council.


author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Steven Ponson has six years of experience covering news in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida. Prior to arriving on the First Coast, Steven also worked in radio in Orlando. He attended the University of Central Florida where he earned a degree in radio and television. Steven has been a reporter, producer, anchor and board operator. Outside of work, Steven loves to watch sports, cook delicious cajun food (as any good Louisiana native does) and spend time outdoors.
author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Steven Ponson has six years of experience covering news in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida. Prior to arriving on the First Coast, Steven also worked in radio in Orlando. He attended the University of Central Florida where he earned a degree in radio and television. Steven has been a reporter, producer, anchor and board operator. Outside of work, Steven loves to watch sports, cook delicious cajun food (as any good Louisiana native does) and spend time outdoors.

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