Boynton Beach to hear PBSO proposal at 6:30 p.m. on June 5.
By Angie Francalancia
In the roughly 18 months since the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office pulled its parks deputies and moved its marine patrol headquarters from the Boynton Inlet, police from nearby coastal towns have seen a significant spike in calls they’re handling in the county parks.
The increase in calls may be playing a role in Manalapan and Ocean Ridge’s discussion over contracting with the Sheriff’s Office for service. Manalapan Police Chief Carmen Maddox says he now needs his own beach patrol and marine unit.
“The town’s southern boundary has seen an increase in activity on the beach and Intracoastal Waterway area,” said Maddox and Town Manager Linda Stumpf in a report on the status of the department.
“To me its cause and effect,” Manalapan Commissioner Louis DeStefano said. “The officers would be coming and going. There was always a presence. When there’s a presence, then people are more on a little bit better behavior.”
In October 2010, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw pulled the 52 deputies in his parks enforcement staff, a move that was expected to save the Sheriff’s Office about $7 million. At the time, Bradshaw asked several cities where county parks were located to sign agreements to take over patrolling the parks. Three of the four county parks in the area sit between Manalapan and Gulf Stream – Ocean Inlet, Ocean Hammock, and Gulfstream.
Ocean Ridge Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi refused the sheriff’s request, saying he didn’t have the staff and didn’t want the higher number of serious crimes to be factored into Ocean Ridge’s annual crime reports.
Manalapan Police agreed, signing a memorandum of understanding that put the police department in charge of patrolling the north side of Ocean Inlet Park where a parking lot sits immediately adjacent to a resident’s home.
Both cities reported a significant increase in the calls they handled at the county park. Manalapan Police handled 47 calls for service on the north side of Ocean Inlet Park in 2011. In the previous three years, the department had handled only 8 calls there.
“We’re trying to assist with anything that could have repercussions,” Maddox said. Those numbers don’t include the daily trips to the parking lot frequented by fishing enthusiasts and beachgoers to unlock and lock the gate each day.
On the south side of Ocean Inlet Park, both Ocean Ridge and Manalapan have responded to calls, despite neither having an agreement with the Sheriff’s Office to take over responsibilities for it.
Ocean Ridge Mayor Geoff Pugh said he’s concerned about the sheriff’s deputies getting pulled out of town to cover the adjacent parks if Ocean Ridge contracts with the sheriff for services.
“It just makes sense. They’re not going to send a deputy all the way from Military Trail if they have one covering Ocean Ridge. And what about the county pocket,” he added. “Our contracted deputy would be answering calls for service in the pocket.”
In the middle of the South Ocean Inlet Park, the former headquarters for the Sheriff’s Marine Patrol sits. Behind it on the Intracoastal, a Sheriff’s Office boat sits moored in a slip. But local officers said no deputies are around.
Together, the two local police departments answered 54 calls for service the year after the parks deputies were pulled and the marine patrol moved to Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach. In the two years prior to the Sheriff’s Office departure, the two towns responded a total of nine times.
“If they want us to go because their deputies are out west, because it’s some sort of fight or other dangerous incident, we’ll go as an assist to another department,” Yannuzzi said. That means Ocean Ridge Police would secure the scene and wait for a sheriff’s deputy to arrive, he said. “That way, we’re not going to have that crime statistic on us.”
While the number of calls would add little volume to the department’s logs, Yannuzzi said it’s the type of crimes occurring in the parks that’s a concern.
“Lately, we know of two robberies, an attempted rape, and we know that auto burglaries have increased dramatically” in the parks, he said.
As an example, he said, just adding Ocean Hammock Park’s crimes to Ocean Ridge’s statistics would have increased auto burglaries from 11 to 37 last year. Instead of zero robberies in the past three years, the statistics would have reflected the two in Ocean Inlet Park, he said.
Both towns realize that any crime in the parks, especially Ocean Inlet Park that abuts several homes, still affects their residents. But each is responding differently. Manalapan has attempted to handle the additional calls to the park and to adjoining Bird Island, a mini but quieter version of Peanut Island. Conversely, Ocean Ridge is calling the Sheriff’s Office.
“The park is an attractive nuisance,” Yannuzzi said. “Just because the sheriff cut his parks patrol should not make it an unfunded mandate on the municipalities.” Ú