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Leon County Commission votes to create Commission on Status of Men and Boys to look at violence

During Tuesday’s Commission meeting, Sheriff McNeil spoke to the elected officials about the project and how to move forward.
Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 8:15 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - In response to a report from Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil about the “Anatomy of a Homicide” project, the Leon County Commission unanimously voted to create a Commission on the Status of Men and Boys to focus on violence.

The Anatomy of a Homicide project is a 90-page report about deadly crime in Leon County from 2015 to 2020. It shows violent crime is more prevalent among young people, and it disproportionately occurs in the 32304 zip code.

During Tuesday’s Commission meeting, Sheriff McNeil spoke to the elected officials about the project and how to move forward.

McNeil told the elected officials that violence is not an issue law enforcement can tackle alone; he’s hoping for a holistic approach from the entire community.

“I don’t believe that you can think that we can get to 15, 20, and 30% reductions in crime for the next 15 years on the path that we’re on. Something has to change. And I hope this Commission on the Status of Men and Boys will be that something that starts the change,” McNeil said.

McNeil says in his time as Sheriff, the community’s collective efforts have yielded “several positive outcomes.”

He said law enforcement needs to synthesize its evidence in an inclusive manner, and the community needs to look at problems in a social context and address structural impediments.

McNeil added that research says the community should consider strategies that focus equally on institutional changes, as well as the individual people committing crime.

He pointed to several areas of potential work, including improvement of physical environment, engagement and support of youth, improvement of resource analysis systems, effectively identifying and engaging stakeholders, and identifying and engaging those at risk using programs that are promising.

McNeil concluded his comments by asking the Commission to establish the Commission on the Status of Men and Boys. He said his office does have the ability to establish the group, but said, “Law enforcement is not always a trusted conveyor of the message.”

“My belief is that a joint Leon County Sheriff’s Office, County Commission, City Commission, and other private partners would be better,” McNeil said.

Multiple Commissioners were passionate about the report’s findings.

“This is a serious ask,” County Commission Chair Bill Proctor said. “I want to walk with Sheriff McNeil.”

Vice Chair and County Commissioner Nick Maddox commended the Sheriff for his work.

“I don’t think there’s anyone I’ve seen in my life be more innovated about tackling the problems in our community related to crime,” Maddox said.

The report shows young, black males are overwhelmingly the victims and offenders of homicides in the community.

Commissioner Carolyn Cummings said she has a personal stake in the issue, as the mother of a young African American man.

“I believe it’s time that we take action,” Cummings said. “What I would like to see with this council is not just gathering statistics because every week we have young black males killing each other.”

She called the report a “wake up call.”

“We are losing generations of our young black males right here in Leon County,” Cummings said. “Those bullets are indiscriminate. You can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We can do better.”

The report also shows 85% of offenders had been suspended or expelled from the public school system.

Commissioner Jimbo Jackson, who is also the Principal of Fort Braden Pre-K through 8 School, says that shows where resources are needed.

“In the last almost two years since COVID kind of interrupted all of our lives, the number of risk reports, the number of school safety reports, has quadrupled and in some cases is 10 times the number for juvenile law notifications that we receive,” Jackson said.

Jackson says the early intervention piece is “obvious” in the report.

“These young people are getting involved in the judicial system much too early, and our interventions are happening much too late,” Jackson said. “It is a matter of people caring enough to become involved.”

The report also shows disproportionately high crime in the 32304 zip code. However, Commissioner Brian Welch says everyone needs to get involved.

“A lot of the guns used in these violent crimes are coming from unlocked cars in my district, where we don’t have the crime rates,” Welch said.

County Commissioner Rick Minor thanked the Sheriff for his report, saying he gave them the tools to take action.

“Now is the time. It’s been the time,” Minor said.

Maddox asked County staff to bring back an agenda item to create the Commission as quickly as possible, possibly by the next meeting in January of 2022.

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