Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Despite Obstacles, Florida Town to Create Its Own Police Dept.

Pembroke Park is determined to separate from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office even though the department building project is stalled and costs have increased. Now the town may not have its own force until 2023.

(TNS) — Although a tiny town was supposed to have created its own police department by now, the project is stalled, cost estimates have gone up and it’s unclear exactly when officers will have a force of their own.

The town of Pembroke Park, Fla., — a 1.6 mile-long community nestled near Hollywood — blames much of the delay on red tape that comes from getting computer software and linking it to Broward County’s regional 911 system.

Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony, whose agency will lose its contract when the new department starts running, has publicly listed some of the town’s troubles, saying “basic elements of good policing” aren’t close to being ready.

Town officials are eager to complete their goal of having their own department, vowing to see it through even though it could mean waiting past September 2022. For now, the town faces a big decision: Stay with the Sheriff’s Office on a month-to-month contract, commit to another year, or seek out another law enforcement agency to provide police services in the interim.

Still, it’s “100 percent this department will happen,” said Pembroke Park Mayor Geoffrey Jacobs. “We’re delayed by circumstances beyond our control. ... But it’s the best thing for this community.”

Readying for Change

Pembroke Park, incorporated in the 1950s and mostly known for its sea of mobile home communities, has about 6,100 full-time residents, and in the winter that jumps to 14,000 to 15,000, many of them French Canadian snowbirds.

The plan to dump the Sheriff’s Office in favor of starting up its own agency was pitched as a way to get more boots on the ground. And town officials accused deputies of having other priorities unless there was an emergency, and not doing as much routine patrol as they would have liked.

Cost was another concern: The Sheriff’s Office’s $3.3 million annual price tag was becoming onerous, town officials said.

The town had set a deadline to start the police force by August, but that didn’t happen. Getting in the way were plans for computer software getting linked to the regional system, and now that process is at least a year away.

Pembroke Park Police Chief David Howard said by email that the department still needs to purchase software that allows in-car computers to communicate with the regional dispatch center and additional software that the officers will use to write reports on.

“It’s going to take time to program the system,” Jacobs said. The creation is like any other building of a business, but with this one “there’s a lot of red tape.”

The new estimate for when the new police force would start serving the community: Sometime in the first quarter of 2023 “is the realistic goal of going live,” said City Manager Juan “J.C.” Jimenez.

Others numbers seem fluid.

Town officials first thought they could make a go of it by hiring 16 people — including Chief Howard — but they now expect to have an extra officer for each shift, which brings the total to 20, to provide the level of service they want to see.

And that means the price tag just went up.

The original estimate to maintain the Pembroke Park Police Department was $2.7 million, but has now increased to $3 million “and may even go up,” Jimenez acknowledged. “I don’t have a final number. It’s been moving around.”

‘The Cost of Doing Business’

In an editorial published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the sheriff said his agency is ready to “remain in place” until September “to allow for the town to be adequately prepared for the change of service.”

“At this time, basic elements of good policing, such as police officer training, standard operating procedures and communications, do not appear to be in place,” Tony recently wrote. “Few, if any, officers have been hired; police vehicles are still being purchased, and the funding for the new police department appears to be in the form of a commercial bank loan of $2.5 million.”

The sheriff’s statements about hiring aren’t fair, town officials said. Already two people have been hired besides the chief, and there can’t be more hires until the agency is in place, they said. “We have to time it as close as possible to [the] live date to hire people. If I hire people now they’ll be doing nothing for a full year,” Jimenez said.

Mayor Jacobs said Tony’s other points, which he perceives as jabs, aren’t fair either.

“You can’t start a department without money. We took out a loan. It’s the cost of doing business,” he said. “The policies and procedures are written, they are going through fine-tuning and approval. We’re ready to hire but it’s pointless to hire people if we can’t start the department.”

The relationship between the Sheriff’s Office and the town appears strained: The Sheriff’s Office shuttered its Pembroke Park substation months ago without formal notice. Jimenez said the town had only heard “through the grapevine they were going to be leaving” before it actually happened.

A spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office referred the South Florida Sun Sentinel to the sheriff’s editorial when asked to comment.

Other delays are issues, too.

Earlier this year, Howard told town commissioners he was working on purchasing 18 police cars, which includes a spare.

But purchasing the spare cars has not gone as planned either yet.

“The Police Department was not able to purchase police vehicles in a timely manner due to numerous issues. Current supply constraints will not allow us to obtain cars for our anticipated opening,” he wrote in an October memo.

Although the fleet of 11 new cars arrived last week, the spare cars are still a lingering concern.

The Jupiter Police Department is selling the town three of its 2014 Dodge Charger patrol cars that would only require re-stripping “and should be viable for our department for at least two years if used sparingly,” Howard wrote in the memo.

The total cost would be less than $1,700.

A plan to approve the purchase of the used cars as spares only was scheduled for last week, but removed from the agenda. The town did not say when it would be rescheduled. A second item to spend nearly $11,000 on 11 printers to use within the police cars has also been put on hold as well.

©2021 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Special Projects