April 20, 2023 – Cars speeding through school zones have been a long-term safety concern for the Duval school community.
It’s something that Duval County School Police (DCSP) Chief Greg Burton has taken note of during his two years in the role, and it’s what led him to create the new School Police Traffic Safety Unit.
Launched in January of this year, this new unit is designed to assist the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office by creating a greater police presence throughout school zones and encouraging drivers to slow down.
It’s only been a few months, but Burton said his team is seeing results.
“It’s slowing down these cars and creating a much safer environment for the children,” Burton said.
The unit functions as a “multiplier” not a replacement of the established role of JSO in enforcing traffic safety, said Burton. The team is still in its infancy stage and consists of eight DCSP officers who have been trained to operate radar technology.
“Whether it be in the morning or in the afternoon, we put those officers out at specific areas where we may be having complaints of traffic, speeders, or people not really paying attention to what they’re doing when they’re going through the school zones,” said DCSP Lieutenant Johnny Harness, who oversees the team.
Instead of using tickets, Harness said the team uses education and warnings as their primary strategy with drivers. And it’s working!
“We stop drivers and discuss the importance of slowing down, especially through the school zones,” said Harness. “It’s just been remarkable to witness the reduction in the average speed in schools that we monitor. For a lot of the drivers, it’s their regular route, and they’re just so used to running right through that area.”
The unit places a priority on monitoring schools that have received the most complaints. These include Holiday Hill Elementary, Ruth Upson Elementary, R.L. Brown Elementary, Westview K8, and Sadie T. Tillis Elementary.
With two radar guns and eight officers who work the position part time, the new unit can only play a limited role in assisting JSO with traffic safety. But Burton and Harness both say they hope the unit can be expanded in the future.
“Long term, I would like for this to be a permanent unit where those officers are full time in that traffic unit,” Burton said. “I think that we have a responsibility to take care of our students and school community.”