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Jacksonville inventor creates sign to stop hostile interactions off mistaken identity – Jacksonville Daily News

Ronnie Fulcher smiles with pride at the signs he has created.

Jacksonville Realtor Sharice Williams has dealt with many intense situations in her career, but none as bad as a discussion with one angry man.

“We hear a man’s voice from the fence,” Williams said. “Startled, I answer, ‘Sir, I’m a Realtor with my clients,’ and clearly that wasn’t a good enough answer. This man, the next door neighbor, continues to cuss and yell very very hostile-like, and I’m continuing to say, ‘Sir, please calm down. I’m a Realtor with Coldwell Banker. This house is for sale. I have my clients with their kids. Please calm down.'”

No question, it’s something Williams wants to forget. Thanks to a Jacksonville native known for various inventions, the chance of this happening again could decrease. 

One year after creating “The Pullover Pal,” a product designed to hold all of the important documents needed if you are pulled over, Ronnie Fulcher has a new invention — a sign to help limit confusion in neighborhoods where real estate agents might be working, thus eliminate potentially hostile interactions. 

“I love Jacksonville but sometimes it can be challenging being a Realtor here and especially being a woman of color,” said Williams, who is not only a Realtor with Coldwell Banker SeaCoast Advantage, but also a Marine veteran.  

Fulcher became an inventor to create products that would help improve interactions between law enforcement and citizens. 

More from Fulcher: Jacksonville inventor hopes device becomes part of history, changing police perspective

The signs Fulcher has created, which differ for real estate agents, building inspectors and property preservation workers, were created to keep those who are doing their jobs from getting the cops called on them, as well as keep neighbors from reacting harshly when they see someone in an uninhabited house.  

“Mainly you have neighbors, or people that see a real estate agent and they may think they’re breaking into a home or something, and automatically call the police,” Fulcher said. “And from people I know, sometimes the police show up with guns blazing, ‘get on the ground,’ and handcuffs. So, with the sign, they’ll see it, and they may think, ‘Well, they could be a real estate agent.’ They may not come with the guns blazing, they may actually talk, which will help both sides.”  

Fulcher said he came up with the idea from watching YouTube videos of what’s happening to real estate agents. 

Williams bought a sign from Fulcher after the interaction with the angry neighbor, and said she uses it all the time. 

Williams’ incident took place a few months ago, when she was helping friends sell their home and look for a bigger home. The wife works full-time from home, the husband is active duty, and they have children involved in sports, which made scheduling difficult.

Because of this, she scheduled a showing at 7:15 p.m., even though she said she typically doesn’t like to show homes after 5 p.m.

For some reason, the power in the home was off. Despite this, the showing continued and they used flashlights. A for sale sign was in the yard, so Williams said she didn’t think anything else of it. 

After the showing, Williams and the family were standing on the patio talking, when the man began to yell at them, despite the two children standing there. 

“I didn’t know if this man was going to start shooting or what at us,” Williams said. “I was almost frozen out of fear. Finally, after pleading with him to calm down and to stop cursing because kids are here, he did, and told us he saw the flashlights and thought someone was trying to rob the place.”

The incident kept the family from buying the home, and Williams said she was still shaking when she got home.

“I made this to help,” Fulcher said. “It’s been going well and I have gotten good feedback.”

Williams said Realtors typically carry a little “pocket card,” with their name, firm name, and license number to help identify themselves if needed. She also wears her name tag.

Fulcher said he's gotten good feedback so far on usage of the signs.

How to help police

The Jacksonville Police Department reported eight calls in 2021 that were listed as mistaken identity. That could be anything from a real estate agent, contractor, cleaning crew or other workers.

While not all cases are reported, Jacksonville Police Chief Michael Yaniero still encourages people to report suspicious behavior because identifying a home as “not inhabited” could signal potential thieves.

“Many crimes, especially burglaries, are crimes of opportunities,” Yaniero said. “A house under construction or for sale is unoccupied, so it does not have the usual level of guardianship, so tapping into the neighborhood watch organization might be a way to increase guardianship.”

To better avoid mistaken identity, Yaniero encourages people who are remodeling their homes to provide police with an after-hour contact in case calls come in about the home. 

“The contact could be added to our Computer Aided Dispatch, and we could call in the event we receive a call for service at that home and the officer would be notified the home is for sale or under construction,” Yaniero said.

The sign’s impact

As for signs to alert people about houses being shown or work being done, Yaniero still urged caution.

“While we appreciate the idea, it always is better for us to respond to check on the situation,” Yaniero said.

Fulcher believes police will be called regardless of the signs, but they could change how police react when they arrive. 

“In America, some are guilty until proven innocent, and that really pertains to minorities,” Fulcher said. “I’ve had many orders for signs, people really think they help. I think it can really help. It’s not the solution, but I hope the signs are a step in the right direction.”

Reporter Morgan Starling can be reached at mstarling@gannett.com

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