Long-awaited Boynton Beach Police Department study is in
Long-awaited Boynton Beach Police Department study is in
Per Chief Jeffrey Katz’s office, Boynton Beach Police Dept. is 95 percent compliant with 41 recommendations of Berkshire Police Report
By K. Chandler
A long-awaited police study commissioned by the City of Boynton Beach and released earlier this year, has revealed a deeply entrenched pattern of community relations issues and internal strife within the Boynton Beach Police Department that can only be resolved by establishing a “new vision for policing” in Boynton Beach, the study concluded.
According to Berkshire Advisors, the Ohio-based consultant firm hired to conduct the $59,000 study, the Boynton Beach Police Dept. (BBPD) is definitely “troubled,” but is by no means ‘out for the count.’
That assessment not with- standing, the BBPD is plagued with a festering community perception of overbearing police, with slow response times, who use abusive language at times, which ultimately heightens hostility levels on both sides.
Internally, the BBPD is best with morale problems among both sworn and civilian staff stemming from inconsistently applied disciplinary measures; the loss of civilian staff positions; a lack of established performance standards; the perception of an unfair promotion process, and the legacy of a department that was previously divided into toxic factions.
In addition, misconduct was connected to a number of officers for conducting illegal searches, falsifying police reports, trafficking drugs, and accessing porn on Dept. computers. One officer, David Britto, fled the country to evade drug trafficking charges. Another officer, Sgt. Frank Ranzie is the subject of an ongoing investigation after his dept. laptop was alleged to have contained scores of pornographic images.
“We’ve taken some hits in recent years,” reflected Interim Police Chief Jeffrey Katz, who took over for former chief Matthew Immler in July 2013. “That is a horrible chapter in the history of our department. We’re hoping that era ends. We don’t want to be defined by that.”
The findings of the Berkshire Advisors study dovetailed in large part with the assessment of the community stake-holders group, an ad hoc coalition of Boynton Beach residents whose opinions were polled for the study. For its part, community policing was viewed as being “inconsistent at best” and ”non-existent at worst.”
The community stake-holders also echoed many community residents’ complaints of police “exhibiting unnecessary aggression leading to suspicions of steroid use and anti-social behavior patterns” among officers. They also pointed out that officers do not consistently return to service after wrapping up a call in the field. “If officers show up and only two are needed, the others should return to road patrol,” the group asserted.
Similarly, the stakeholders alluded to a number of police officers known for being “unnecessarily rude” when questions surfaced during service calls regarding their “slow response time.”
It was also pointed out that the driving habits of some officers was problematic, particularly officers who “drive at high rates of speed while using their sirens and lights; not stopping at stop signs and not using their turn signals,” contributing to potentially dangerous road conditions.
Other concerns raised included the fact that the Boynton Beach Police Dept. lobby was only open one day of the week and the danger this poses if someone needs emergency assistance but has to wait outside the building for a police officer to come out.
A number of residents agreed with the need for community policing but some expressed skepticism that things will change much from the way things have been run for decades.
Angela T., 36, who grew up in Boynton Beach said she’s witnessed numerous occasions over the years where police have “gotten off on power and authority,” abusing both and giving police a bad name in the process.
“A lot of police are just there to collect a paycheck,” she noted. “They could care less about the people in the community who they are there to serve because they have no bond or connection with that community. We need community policing but it’s how they approach people that makes the difference between getting cooperation and being shut out because of trust issues. I’d love to see things change, but will they – I’m not sure.”
Another former resident, Ron Greene said he’d lived in Boynton Beach for 53 years and never had a problem out of the police. “Police have to do what they’ve got to do. We’ve got a real problem with drugs in Boynton Beach that needs to be taken care of.”
Additional problems revealed through the study included:
· Miss-categorized service calls. Only 8 percent of police service calls in Boynton Beach were characterized as emergency calls compared to other communities where the percentage is between 20-33 percent for all police service calls. Currently 15,792 calls (58 percent) that were classified as “non-emergency” were reclassified as “emergency” calls to be responded to within 6 minutes 90 percent of the time, rather than the previous time of 13 minutes on average. Similarly, non-emergency calls were also scrutinized with a recommended response time of 15 minutes rather than the current 30 minutes. According to the focus group wait times of more than 30 minutes, or complete “no-shows” were reported for many non-emergency calls;
· Boynton Beach’s holding facilities lack the ability to separate juveniles from adults, and males from females, a situation that needs to be addressed;
· Despite the fact that Boynton Beach had the fewest number of serious crimes (homicide, rape robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, auto theft) per 1,000 population, of such cities as Albany, GA, Delray Beach, FL, Melbourne, FL, Ft. Meyers, FL, Ft. Pierce, Fl, N. Miami Beach, FL and Ocala, FL, Boynton Beach’s Police Dept. also had the lowest serious crime clearance rate among those same cities.
According to Stephanie H. Slater, Public Information Officer for the BBPD, “The Berkshire report identified 41 recommendations for improvements,” 95 percent of which the BBPD is compliant with at this time. Among the actions that the BBPD has undertaken include:
· Implementing quarterly Town Hall meetings with Chief Jeffrey S. Katz and his command staff: Major Stewart Steele and Major Kelly Harris;
· Re-engineering the BBPD’s hiring practices to be more stringent and demanding;
· Changing BBPD’s field training officer program to a Police Training Officer program modeled after the Reno Police Department program which puts an emphasis on community policing and critical thinking;
· Putting a strong focus on community outreach to youth via partnering with sports programs, including the East Boynton Wildcats and Boynton Beach High School.
Reiterating the point that altering the Boynton Beach Police Department’s image was the most important undertaking at this point, Police Chief Katz said it would take a commitment on the part of every employee involved.
“What I’m stressing to every member of the Dept. is that nobody gave us a bag of pixie dust and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to make this place run the way we want it to run. It’s going to start with every member of the Dept.”