Fla. town rushes to add officers before new PD launches, skips background checks

Eleven officers were sworn in moments after the town manager pleaded with elected officials to delay the department’s launch


By Lisa J. Huriash
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. — As Hurricane Ian swirled across Florida, the small town of Pembroke Park rushed late Wednesday to tend to an urgent matter of its own: Making sure it had cops patrolling the streets.

Eleven police officers were sworn in to the new Pembroke Park Police Department on Wednesday evening, moments after the town manager pleaded with elected officials to delay the department’s launch. In the rush, the town didn’t do background checks on the new cops, but the police chief said it wasn’t really needed.

The police department — in the works for years as a cheaper alternative to the Broward Sheriff’s Office, and with the reasoning it could provide better service — will start at midnight Friday.

The Sheriff’s Office will stay on shift till 6 a.m. Saturday to ease the transition.

The new officers will wear uniforms “similar to what BSO wears” for “a week or two” while they wait for their own uniforms to be delivered. Bulletproof vests also are on loan until the agency’s delivery arrives in a month.

The agency originally was scheduled to start in February, but the contract ends with the Sheriff’s Office on Friday and town officials were unwilling to extend it. Town officials promised they had a plan to provide services during the four-month gap, but efforts to either hire off-duty sheriff’s deputies or contract with another city failed.

Town Manager Juan “J.C.” Jimenez tried again Wednesday to convince them to allow the Sheriff’s Office to stay another six months, telling the commission: “I don’t think it would be prudent to rush the department,” he said. “When you rush things, mistakes are made.”

He was dismissed with a response from Mayor Geoffrey Jacobs: “I’m tired of the stupidity and the incompetence.”

Jacobs said the police department will have three officers and a sergeant on each shift, although in May, a consultant recommended five officers and a sergeant would be needed on each shift.

Chief David Howard told the South Florida Sun Sentinel the department is ready: He has enough cars, guns, and now, officers. The ability to communicate by radio “was finalized an hour ago,” he said immediately after the Wednesday commission meeting.

But the traditional vetting process for new hires, including background investigations and lie-detector tests, which is typical for police agencies, has been skipped.

“It’s optional for the chief of police,” he said. Because the officers are all active members coming from other police departments, “I didn’t see the need.”

Howard said with the exception of one officer graduating from the police academy in December, they have “decades” of experience, “way more experience than me.”

The swearing-in three days before they are supposed to hit the streets surprised some of the elected officials. They said they didn’t realize the officers would be sworn in immediately to start by Friday.

Vice Mayor Reynold Dieuveille, who last week voted to end the contract with the Sheriff’s Office, was now having second thoughts and suggested an extension with the Sheriff’s Office “for my own peace of mind.”

“Tell me your experience in law enforcement,” Jacobs demanded.

Dieuveille was not supported by Commissioner Bill Hodgkins, who last week was the only one who voted against dropping the sheriff’s contract without a temporary renewal, and later called his colleagues’ decision “just idiotic.” Without a second vote, Dieuveille’s request failed.

©2022 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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