|Posted by Anne Siren on November 26, 2012 at 3:40 PM|
By Michael d’Oliveira
Wilton Manors - This city’s police officers want to take off their black uniforms and put on the white ones worn by Broward Sheriff’s Office [BSO] deputies.
On Tuesday, Nov. 27, the Police Benevolent Association [PBA], which represents police personnel, will ask the city commissioners to do just that – fold the Wilton Manors Police Department [WMPD] and sign a contract with BSO. WMPD personnel voted 28-0 for the change.
“We’re very far away from a merger,” said WMPD Sgt. Chuck Howard, speaking on behalf of the WMPD. “We want the people to be educated and come forward and just voice their opinion and ask the commission for a proposal.”
Beyond the public comments section at Tuesday’s meeting, residents also have a chance to express themselves at the polls.
In January, 82 percent of residents voted to require a referendum as “a condition of abolishing and transferring the city’s police department.” Commissioners would still But the commissioners wouls still have the final say.
In an Oct. 16 candidates forum, Vice Mayor Julie Carson and Commissioner Tom Green both expressed support for keeping WMPD. “I like it. The residents like it. It’s not fiscally responsible to move to BSO,” said Carson.
According to the PBA, switching would allow the city to save $4 million over the life of the first three-year contract through the reduction in some administrative positions and services that can be handled through BSO.
Commissioner Scott Newton said he doesn’t believe the numbers but also doesn’t believe people want a change. “The community is not asking for a change. As of today, there’s no reason to look to BSO. Most people are very happy,” he said.
But Howard said switching to BSO is about more than just the city budget.
“We would have all those resources we can share from the Sherriff’s Office. If we have a major crime in process we can pull those resources from Oakland Park BSO,” said Howard.
With BSO, the city would have access to SWAT, helicopters, the bomb squad and a specialized unit that focuses on high crime areas.
Wilton Manors spent $5.689 million this year for police services; 43 percent of the total budget. In 2011, the city spent $5.658 million and in 2010, $5.608 million.
Lauderdale-By-The-Sea [LBTS], which is the closest BSO municipality in size to Wilton Manors, spent $3.5 million this year, $3.4 million last year and $3.1 million the year before that. LBTS is 1.5 square miles and has a population of 6,168 with 28 BSO personnel, including 19 deputies. Wilton Manors is 2.5 square miles and has 11,843 residents with a police staff of 28, including 16 patrol officers.
Said Howard, “There have been times when we had to hold calls [or get assistance from Fort Lauderdale] because we’re understaffed.”
According to a brochure distributed by the PBA, a maximum of two officers patrol Wilton Manors at any given time. Howard added that the change would allow personnel to go from the current eight-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts, allowing for more flexibility and less stressful schedules.
Assistant City Manager Leigh Ann Henderson said police staffing levels have remained the same for years.
In 2010 Pompano Beach Commissioners, unhappy with rising costs, considered dropping BSO in favor of restarting the city’s police department. Pompano hired BSO in 1999. One aspect of the BSO contract they were unhappy with was a single year increase of eight percent. Charles Whitelock, who represented Pompano in negotiations with BSO, said at the time that the increase contained “fluff to cover unanticipated costs.”
Ultimately commissioners decided it against it because of the costs.
“If we were starting our own police force we would need more money [than the four-year, $37.3 million contract],” said Commissioner Charlotte Burrie in 2010.
“That was the main factor,” said Pompano Beach Mayor Lamar Fisher. He added that public sentiment in favor of keeping BSO and the additional resources that come with it also persuaded the commission. Municipalities that contract with BSO get to make decisions on command staff, including the selection of who serves as chief of the district.
WMPD Chief Paul O’Connell served as BSO chief in Parkland before being hired by Wilton Manors.
Commissioner Rex Hardin, who voted against BSO in favor of a Pompano police department, said he is happy with the level of service provided by BSO but saw a chance for significant cost savings to taxpayers. Hardin said start-up costs for the new department would have raised costs for the first year but the city would have seen “significant savings” over the long term.