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Student research challenges JSO crime stats

spring 2012 hallett

Jacksonville no longer carries the dubious title as “murder capital of Florida,” according to a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office interpretation of recently released Florida Department of Law Enforcement statistics.


A group of University of North Florida criminology students, under the tutelage of Criminology and Criminal Justice Department Chair Dr. Michael Hallett, begs to differ.


After an exhaustive, semester-long content analysis of state crime data from the past few years, the four-student research team presented their findings during a community discussion on campus in late November. Coming in at second place, Duval County has a murder rate of 8.99 per 100,000 people, with Miami-Dade leading at 9.03 per 100,000.


The student team, which includes criminology students Laura Davie, Robert Farley, Kevin Larose-Renner and Sigrid Wellhausen, said their work makes it clear — the difference between Jacksonville and Miami is statistically insignificant and shouldn’t be trumpeted as a full-scale crime dip for the First Coast.


“The statistics speak for themselves,” Farley said. “And even if we might be comparable to other cities in terms of the violent crime rate, gun crimes here are far higher.”


Farley said the team’s research determined Duval County has an 85 percent higher rate than the state average for crimes committed with a firearm, close to a 50-percent spike from the previous year.


Their studies built off many of the themes present in the documentary film, “The 904,” which was produced by WJCT’s Melissa Ross. The presentation was titled “The 904 Project” and featured clips from the movie.


“We wanted to give the students the chance to open up the conversation,” Ross said. “Dr. Hallet has been a frequent guest on the radio show, and in the course of him coming to the station and talking about city issues, we started talking about ways to keep the focus on crime in Duval County. And with the topics that were touched on in the film, the students used that as a jumping-off point for their research.”


The project was funded through a $5,000 Presidential Scholar’s Grant for community-based learning initiatives, Hallett said.


He spoke highly of the University’s emphasis on boosting transformational learning opportunities for students in and out of the classroom, saying the access to community-based projects is key for students looking to break into criminology.


“Projects like this give students a stake in their community, their city,” he said. “It raises the profile of their work and gives them a true sense of accomplishment when they see their research being disseminated to the community. That experience is invaluable.”


The team’s presentation was held in the Student Union ballroom and attended by multiple local leaders, including Duval County Public Defender Matt Shirk, Jacksonville civil rights pioneer Alton Yates and multiple city council members and law enforcement officials.


“Students don’t often get this kind of audience for their work,” Hallett said. “It’s not just their professors and peers reviewing their research, it’s the entire city of Jacksonville. It shows UNF is an important part of the community discussion on crime and everything in between.”