Task force takes annual neighborhood tour

Gainesville Police Department Chief Tony Jones speaks to members of the Black on Black Crime Task Force at Village and Forest Green Apartments. The task force was on its annual bus tour of Gainesville neighborhoods.

CLEVELAND TINKER/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 2:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 2:37 p.m.

While a crowd of elementary-aged school children ran around playing at Village and Forest Green Apartments in northeast Gainesville, Gainesville Police Department Chief Tony Jones told members of the Black on Black Crime Task Force about a crime prevention program the department held at a summer camp at a church next door to the apartments.

Talking to more than 50 people participating in the annual bus tour of the task force of select neighborhoods last Wednesday, Jones talked about how officers from GPD joined forces with the UR Summer Fun Camp at Upper Room Church of God in Christ to teach young people about the importance of respect, integrity and avoiding gangs. Jones, who said GPD knows there is gang activity at the apartments, said that is why gang prevention efforts target the very young.

“Those are the ones we are trying to save and keep from becoming involved with gangs,” said Jones, as John Alexander, executive director of the Reichert House Youth Academy, raced with a group of boys.

The tour served as the monthly meeting of the task force, which normally meets at 5:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of every month at the Kirby Smith Center on E. University Ave.

The tour began at Kirby Smith before heading to Southern Pines Apartments off SW 20th Avenue, where it is alleged that 26-year-old Larry Whitehead Jr. shot to death Sunday morning 37-year-old Samuel Hamilton.

The tour left Southern Pines and rode through the Phoenix and Porters neighborhoods in southwest Gainesville, before stopping by Village and Forest Green Apartments. It ended at Gardenia Gardens apartments on NE 8th Avenue as a light rain fell from the sky.

The tour also featured brief speeches by Darry Lloyd, spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office, and Adam Urra, an assistant state attorney and chief of the State Attorney’s Office’s gun and violent crime division. Urra and Lloyd both emphasized that violent criminals in Gainesville and Alachua County can count on going to prison for a long time, if convicted.

“We have a 92 percent conviction rate,” said Urra, adding that sentences for violent crimes in Alachua County are quite lengthy. Urra also emphasized to the close to 30 residents and officials riding the big blue RTS bus that the neighborhoods they were visiting have mostly law-abiding and decent residents.

“There are a very small percentage of people who make some of these places unsafe,” said Urra, adding that a lot of criminals, mostly between the ages of 18 to 24, don’t live in the areas where they commit their crimes.

Lloyd, who became the spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office after longtime spokesman Spencer Mann retired several months ago, said in the future, the public will be getting more information about how criminals are prosecuted.

Also, Sgt. Jaime Kurnick of the GPD crime prevention unit talked about the importance of doing simple things to keep from being victims of crime. She said the most simple thing to do is to keep homes and vehicles locked.

“There are simple, small steps you can take to keep your stuff from walking off,” Kurnick said.

Rosa B. Williams, chair of the task force, said the tour is held annually to take task force members to places in the community they might not otherwise visit.

“We want the task force members to see some of the communities we have problems in so we can get more people involved with helping the people who live in those communities,” Williams said. “We want the task force members to see the communities they can make a difference in.”

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