* Ocean Ridge will hear a PBSO proposal at 6 p.m. May 8 at Town Hall.
By Steve Plunkett
The proposal to switch police services to the county sheriff got Manalapan neighbors talking, but town commissioners fear much of what’s being said is wrong.
“We are suffering from a dearth of facts. We are suffocating under a barrage of views and misinformation,” Vice Mayor Donald Brennan said at the April 24 commission meeting, a day after a standing-room-only workshop.
Commissioners ordered Town Manager Linda Stumpf and Police Chief Carmen Mattox to report back on where Manalapan is now, what security issues it faces now and going forward, and if there is a gap, how the town can fill it and how much will it cost.
Mayor Basil Diamond summarized the options: Go with the Sheriff’s Office, which says it can do the job for $1.17 million a year, or stick with the Police Department, which has a $1.4 million budget this year.
Other possibilities Diamond included were increasing the number of Manalapan officers, increasing their compensation and adding a beach and marine patrol. Other issues include whether to hire a consultant, whether to put the proposal up for a vote by residents, or whether to postpone the matter until October.
“There isn’t a point in having another workshop just to do what we did yesterday,” Diamond said.
Stapled copies of a letter from the mayor, one from police officers and 55 pages of emails from residents were available at the workshop. Attendees included the mayor and two commissioners of Ocean Ridge, which will hear a sheriff’s proposal for that town May 8; Ocean Ridge’s police chief and lieutenant; three officers from Boynton Beach, which also has requested a bid from the Sheriff’s Office; and two representatives of the Police Benevolent Association.
Diamond’s letter warned that the emails held “misrepresentations” showing the writers have “a lack of understanding of the proposal or simply want to appeal to emotion rather than engage in a rational thinking process.”
Police officers support the switch.
“The town has postponed negotiations with the PBA and the officers have been working without a contract for almost two years, meanwhile we continue to slide further down the pay and benefits scale as our surrounding police agencies move ahead of us,” the officers’ letter said. “The fact is the Sheriff’s Office can add additional hours to our patrol time and provide our officers with a much higher pay rate and benefits package.”
Brennan said Manalapan was three different communities when it comes to crime: the homes along State Road A1A, those on Point Manalapan and the commercial properties at Plaza del Mar and the Ritz-Carlton.
“You’re going to have a point of view depending on what your street address is,” Brennan said.
A 2011 police log showed the ocean zone had 7,107 events while the point zone had 1,245.
The bulk of the ocean calls were for construction site checks (1,155), traffic stops (2,168) and traffic enforcement (835). But ocean residents also experienced 24 of the town’s 27 theft cases last year, all seven of its vandalism cases and its only fight.
“It has not changed from a security standpoint for the better,” Brennan said.
Mattox said Ocean Inlet Park just south of town had been the scene of four recent “gun-involved” incidents as well as an attempted sexual battery the weekend before. To solve the problems, he said, he would need a marine patrol and “more feet on the ground.”
Commissioner Louis DeStefano said the county’s decision to transfer Marine Patrol operations from Ocean Inlet Park to Peanut Island had not helped the situation.
“The Marine Patrol station closing in my mind sent a message,” DeStefano said.
Sheriff’s Maj. Dan Smith emphasized that his proposal, first presented in February, was not a takeover.
“We’re not actively going out and trying to drum up business,” he said. “We’re not here because we’re trying to take you over. That’s not how it is at all. We’re here because we feel we can offer you the service.”
Smith said “crime in Lake Worth is about cut in half” after the Sheriff’s Office put 13 officers on patrol instead of seven. Resident Peter McLean asked commissioners to put the question up for a vote by residents. Former Mayor Kelly Gottlieb echoed his request.
“I do feel this is a vote that should be taken by the community,” Gottlieb said.
But Diamond said the Town Charter put that responsibility on the commission.
“There are a lot of emotional components to it. We want to provide what our residents feel they need, but part of being a commissioner is showing leadership,” he said.
The mayor asked Smith to explain the differences between the sheriff’s proposals to Manalapan and Ocean Ridge.
The proposal to Ocean Ridge, “price-wise, cost-wise was very similar to what we have here,” Diamond said. “But it provided for 10 officers in Ocean Ridge and we have eight.”
The Ocean Ridge plan is $20,000 less than Manalapan’s.
Smith said how many calls for service each town has and what types of calls they are determine how many officers are needed.
“And also the actual comparison of pay for the police officers that are working there,” Smith said. “You have higher-end salaries.”
In related business, commissioners authorized Stumpf to buy a $28,000 Dodge Charger police car. The Charger will be the department’s first of that brand.
The town last year bought two Ford Crown Victoria cruisers, the last year Ford made them, so it could save money transferring police equipment from old Crown Vics. The Crown Vic equipment does not fit in a Charger.