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CM Becton, JSO and Members of the Hotel and Tourism Industry Discuss Plan To Revamp Former ‘Crime Free Hotel Program’

Jacksonville, FL (May 13, 2019) -- Back in November, Councilman Danny Becton announced an initiative to increase hotel safety with the help of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO) and alliance of hotel owners and industry representatives. Over the last eight months, the focus group coined a plan that ultimately revamps the former “Crime Free Hotel Program” for the Jacksonville area.

The issue of crime and safety was first initiated when a chance meeting between Councilman Becton and the owner of Comfort Suites, Jitan Kuverji shared views on their perception and concerns that hotels specifically in the Baymeadows area have with a less than favorable image. The two Baymeadows business owners acknowledge that something needed to be done and they were inspired to see what they could do to change things.

It was from our conversation that we felt area stakeholders needed to come together and work to identify initiatives that can be performed to improve the experience of visitors and the perception of crime within our area hotels in Baymeadows.” Councilman Becton explained. “We are looking forward to this being the first of what could be the start of many good things to come to begin a direction that can benefit everyone.

The group recently held a meeting on May 13th with all parties involved in the hotel safety initiative to discuss what they had so far. The meeting was held at Fred Pozin’s hotel, the Ramada Inn, which Councilman Becton, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and several representatives from local hotels and tourism organizations attended, including Florida’s Restaurant & Lodging Association (FRLA) Northeast Chapter and Visit Jacksonville.

In preparation for the meeting, the FRLA Northeast Regional Director, Nicole Chapman, met with Pozin, Kuverji and a few other local hotel and motel owners and together, the focus group created a list of recommendations that they found “proactive in fighting crime to keep guests and visitors safe.” The recommendations being proposed ultimately create a tiered program, which Pozin goes over in the meeting. Pozin said the group felt that the proposed steps in the so-far developed tiered program would better assist the JSO in creating a crime free community. The proposed program is divided into three tiers. Chapman said Tier 1 is the starting point.

“Once we have hotels onboard with the first tier, the focus group will reevaluate and begin the planning for Tiers 2 and 3 with the help of hotel community input and JSO,” Chapman said. “Once this program has launched, we plan to share with surrounding counties and add restaurants to the focus group.”

The first tier is made up of security steps and procedures to ensure the establishment is safe for guests and staff. Some of the basics rules in the tier may or may not be already enforced at some hotels, such as: asking for and checking IDs at check in and matching credit card. The tier also suggests implementing policy standards like, “a no cash policy up front,” and having mandatory room checks. In addition, Chapman said Tier 1 highlights staff training so employees know and understand the policy’s they are enforcing. The “See something, say something” slogan was brought up in previous meetings and the focus group agreed that this is great motto to teach staff when it comes to suspicious activity.

The group also discussed the idea of requiring hotel and motel staff to “participate in brand approved human trafficking training or FRLA online human trafficking prevention course,” and a JSO’s training class.

Chapman said FRLA will handle the communication end of the program. FRLA will “work closely with hotels and motels to obtain contacts for each property to add to a working database for communication pertaining to this initiative, facilitate a group email for hotels to use to send information to FRLA, which FRLA will overall decide what information is appropriate to share to hotels across Jacksonville or hotels in certain areas. In the past, an email alert was sent by the JSO contact to all area hotels notifying of topic or sequence of events. This allowed the property to be aware and help stop potential crimes.”

Chapman said moving forward with the revamped program, FRLA wants to create a partnership with JSO that allows FRLA and hotels to work together with JSO and use them as a resource to combat crime within the hotel community. The group is still working on specific details for Tier 2 and Tier 3. As for now, the tiers highlight certain requirements the group finds necessary at hotel and motel establishments, which includes having appropriate lighting and landscaping and implementing mandatory training and having on an annual basis.

Chapman and Pozin said as they move forward with this tiered system, “the focus group intends to reevaluate and begin the planning for Tiers 2 and 3 with the help of hotel community input and JSO. Once this program has launched, we plan to share with surrounding counties and add restaurants to the focus group.”

The group hopes to have a set name and begin marketing the program in the next few months, and hopefully open the program to the hotel and motel community by the end of summer.

 

 

By Tiziana Onstead, District 11 Executive Council Assistant