Car break-ins, traffic woes top list of crime concerns voiced at Nocatee public safety meeting

SJCSO opens new Ponte Vedra field office, district slated to receive more officers


Car break-ins and a plethora of traffic-related issues topped the list of concerns Nocatee residents shared with representatives from the Duval and St. Johns counties sheriff’s offices last week.

Approximately 100 residents filled Nocatee’s Crosswater Hall to hear law enforcement officials answer previously submitted questions on public safety issues. Among the concerns voiced by residents were questions regarding a rash of car break-ins – a crime that sheriff’s office officials said resulted from residents not locking their vehicles.“We have a nice community, but we have to lock our doors,” said Sgt. Jay Lawing of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s a crime of opportunity.”

While noting that most instances of car break-ins are committed by people living in the neighborhood, officials did note that groups of thieves have been known to work the area. Lawing noted that some thieves have been entering unlocked cars and searching the glove compartment for the driver’s manual, which often has a valet key taped in the back. They then use that key to steal the car.

Assistant Chief Mat Nemeth of Duval County Sheriff’s Office recounted one case where thieves entered an unlocked car and found keys to a second car also parked in the driveway. The thieves stole that car, then returned the next day and used the garage door opener to burglarize the home.

“This family got victimized three times from one careless act of leaving a car unlocked,” Nemeth said.

When asked about the possibility of establishing neighborhood watches to combat car thieves and similar crimes, Cpl. Diana Bryant said that local homeowners’ associations have “shut them down.”

“I think they were afraid of issues related to the term ‘Neighborhood Watch,’” Bryant said. “Maybe you could get something going under a different name, but if you use that name, they probably will not let you.”

Responding to calls

Nocatee residents also had questions regarding average law enforcement response times. While the average response time to calls in St. Johns County is under five minutes, officials said, currently the Nocatee area is not designated as a “minimum manned zone” required to have 24/7 coverage on every shift.

That may change, however, after the new county budget is approved at the start of the fiscal year in October. If all goes as planned, officials said, the Northeast District will receive funding for an additional four officers.

“What that does is give us another deputy on every shift to make Nocatee a minimum manned zone,” Lawing said. “We don’t have the manpower right now. Next year, we will.”

In addition, St. Johns County recently opened a new field office located at 1108 A1A N. at the intersection of Mickler Road and A1A.

For Nocatee residents who live in Duval County, the average response time is 29 minutes because officers must travel from the Bartram area to respond to calls. Nemeth stressed that the longer response time was also indicative of the fact that most Nocatee calls were considered “low priority,” in that the incident – such as a car break-in – had already occurred and no one was in imminent danger.

“Don’t think if someone broke into your house there’s going to be a 29-minute wait,” Nemeth said.

Some attendees expressed concern that law enforcement officers can’t even find some of Nocatee’s newer neighborhoods. A resident of one of Nocatee’s Duval County neighborhoods recounted an incident where a neighbor thought someone had broken into her house. Despite calling 911 and giving her address, officers couldn’t find the house, calling back twice over the course of an hour seeking additional directions.

“Can you give me some assurance if I have to call 911 you will find me?” the woman asked. “If I give you my address, why can’t you find me?”

Nemeth said that while he couldn’t comment on the specific incident without more details, he assured attendees that whenever a new neighborhood is built, the information is given to emergency first responders to be entered into their GIS system, which is more detailed than a typical GPS system.

Going around and around

Most of the discussion, however, focused on traffic and transportation-related concerns, with residents asking questions on everything from motorcycle drag races on Nocatee Parkway to speeding, tailgating, and texting and driving. But the biggest point of contention that had residents’ heads spinning were roundabouts.

Nocatee’s multiple-lane roundabouts, it seems, prove confusing to many residents, resulting in frequent near-misses with other motorists. Using a chart, Lawing tried to explain the roundabout rules as simply as possible.

“A car traveling in the right lane has to exit the roundabout at the first exit,” he said.

But several residents contended that advice contradicts how the Nocatee Crosswater roundabout is marked. According to residents, the arrows painted on the roundabout heading west on Crosswater Boulevard indicate that cars in the right lane may continue on through the circle to the next exit.

In response to questions as to why Nocatee didn’t simply make the rotary one lane, Community Manager David Ray noted that having two-lane roads feeding into a one-lane roundabout is not permitted.

The session concluded with a discussion about both adult and youth bicyclists and youths driving golf carts. Lawing said St. Johns County requires golf cart operators to hold a driver’s license; 15-year-olds with a learner’s permit may operate a golf cart, but only if accompanied by a licensed driver. The problem, officials said, is knowing whether a youth operator is of age, as they can’t stop a youth driving a golf cart without probable cause.

Ultimately, officials concluded, Nocatee is a very safe community.

“We do not have an issue with violent crime here,” Lawing said.

Nemeth agreed. “If you don’t see us (in your neighborhood), I would argue that’s a good thing,” he said. “That means you don’t have crime in your neighborhood.”