'Irresponsible and irrational': Fla. town won't have PD starting next month
The decision comes as the town nears the start-up date for its own police department, which is expected in February
By Lisa J. Huriash
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. — There might not be any full-time cops in Pembroke Park, starting Oct. 1, in what could be the end of a long-running spat between the town and the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
Despite some uncertainty ahead, the town commission has voted 2-1 to end its contract with the Sheriff’s Office after a 42-year partnership. The decision comes as the town nears the start-up date for its own police department, which is expected in February.
But until then, there will “be some number of months” between the end of the Sheriff’s Office contract and the launch of the Pembroke Park Police Department, said Town Attorney Melissa Anderson, who urged the commission to enter into a new contract with the Sheriff’s Office.
“There’s going to be a gap, and it’s going to be several weeks,” acknowledged Police Chief David Howard to commissioners.
State law requires the Sheriff’s Office to “keep peace,” the attorney said, but cities contract with police for local law enforcement duties and traffic enforcement. She said the Sheriff’s Office would respond to 911 calls, but nothing else.
“I don’t know what would happen if we had a serious incident in this town on Oct. 2 or Oct. 1 and I don’t want to find out,” Anderson said. “I find it very concerning that we would go without guaranteed levels of service, police service, for the residents of this town.”
“It puts us in a tough spot, in a tough bind,” agreed Town Manager City Manager Juan “J.C.” Jimenez.
In a prepared statement released by his office late Tuesday afternoon, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony called the decision to end the contract “unfortunate,” saying it leaves “a potential lapse in critical police services until the Town’s department is operational.”
He called the mayor’s decision “irresponsible and irrational” that will jeopardize public safety.
“While BSO will continue to perform its statutory obligations to respond to emergency calls within the Town until their police department becomes operational, this is not a substitute for proactive law enforcement patrols. The Town has been warned that response times to these emergency calls will significantly increase,” Tony said. “It’s a shame the Pembroke Park residents, businesses and visitors will suffer because of the Town’s political antics.”
‘What’s in the best interest’
The majority of the town’s three commissioners said no to continuing a Sheriff’s contract.
Mayor Geoffrey Jacobs blasted the Sheriff’s Office since it doesn’t “want to help us out for two, three months.”
“We have to do what’s in the best interest of Pembroke Park,” he said. He said the town has a “plan,” but didn’t elaborate, except that continuing with the Sheriff’s Office was a disservice.
“The bottom line is we need a contract with them or somebody, really quick,” said Commissioner William Hodgkins.
“We’ll find something,” Jacobs said.
“Well we don’t know that,” Hodgkins said. “We need to cover our butts.” He was the sole vote not to end the Sheriff’s contract.
Police Chief Howard told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that “the Broward Sheriff’s Office is responsible for maintaining the peace in Broward County. As a matter of public safety ... the Broward Sheriff’s Office [would] respond to calls for service and that will provide” coverage in the gap period.
“However, we are speaking to other cities for possible short-term assistance so our businesses and residents will receive more prompt service however, as it is a deployment issue. I do not want to get into details.”
Matt Cowart, the Sheriff’s union president, said residents would have to “really wait” for deputies to arrive from other jurisdictions and there will be a “drawback in services.”
The new police department was the brainchild of the town’s mayor, who faulted skyrocketing costs for the need for change.
The town hired Howard, who had retired from the West Palm Beach Police Department in 2017 and crossed paths with the Pembroke Park’s mayor because they are both airline pilots, as its police consultant in June 2020 and as its chief in February 2021.
Howard told commissioners last week one of the holdups was hiring officers.
“Let’s hire them,” Jacobs told him.