- Bill DiPaolo Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Sixteen new police cars, more than 100 body cameras, an inflatable patrol boat, four more police officers, protective vests and a $3 million boost in the annual budget are recent additions to the town’s police department.
“We have to be prepared for upcoming challenges. We have been good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars,” said Police Chief Frank Kitzerow on Tuesday night when the town council approved $600,000 to purchase the 16 new police vehicles.
Jupiter’s overall crime rate decreased in 2014 and 2015. But that changed in 2016, according to statistics released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Larceny, robbery, motor vehicle thefts and aggravated assaults increased in the first six months of 2016. Meanwhile, the number of murders, rapes, and burglaries decreased, according to FDLE.
The current Jupiter police budget is $21 million. That’s about one-fourth of the town’s annual operating and debt service budget. The police budget three years ago was $18 million.
Another big increase may be coming. The town is considering spending about $35 million to build a new police station and town hall.
The boost in police spending reflects an accelerating state and national trend in the past 30 years, as local governments spend a bigger slice of their budgets toward law enforcement at the expense of social services, health care, infrastructure and other types of spending, according to a new report from a network of civil rights groups.
“Place after place, no matter what part of the country they’re in, we’re finding the same stories, and it speaks to the need to re-envision and re-imagine public safety,” said Jennifer Epps-Addison, president and co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, the authors of the report.
Crime, including the shooting of three young people in February on Mohawk Street in the Jupiter River Estates neighborhood, has brought much attention lately to Jupiter.
Kelli Doherty, 20, Sean Henry, 26, and Brandi El-Sahly, 24, were found dead from gunshot wounds on Feb. 5. The state is seeking the death penalty against Christopher Vasata, who faces three counts of first-degree murder.
Other arrests in and around Jupiter have drawn state and national attention.
*Austin Harrouff is in Martin County jail on murder charges in the 2016 stabbing deaths of John Stevens III, 59, and Michelle Mishcon, 53, at their home on Southeast Kokomo Lane, near Jupiter.
*Professional golfer Tiger Woods was arrested in Jupiter for driving under the influence at about 3 a.m. on May 29 as he drove southbound on Military Trail. Woods pleaded guilty to a charge of reckless driving last month.
*Paramedics Paul Besaw, 36, and Lahiri Garcia, 51, were killed on June 1 on Indiantown Road after they had just dropped off a patient at Jupiter Medical Center. Genaro Delacruz Ajqui, 39, faces two counts of DUI manslaughter and other charges.
The boost in Jupiter’s police spending is warranted to keep up with the town’s population growth, said Jupiter Vice Mayor Wayne Posner. The public also wants more police scrutiny. They want police to be current with new crime-fighting technology, Posner said.
The population of Jupiter 12 years ago was about 48,000. It’s now about 64,000, according to the U.S. Census. New construction in Abacoa, the building of Harbourside Place and the development of the Inlet Village on A1A are additional areas that must be patrolled, Posner said.
“It’s a fine line between budget and safety,” said Posner.
Here are some recent Jupiter police expenditures:
*Body cameras costing about $880,000 were approved in October. Jupiter officers will be issued the wallet-sized cameras, which will be worn on their chests. One is used during the day, and the other when driving to and from work in a take-home car. When one camera is not being used, it goes into a dock to upload the videos.
The first installment, about $230,000, comes from police federal forfeiture funds, money the town receives from the seizure of stolen property. The next four annual installments, about $171,000 each, will be from the overall Jupiter budget.
* Four more police officers were hired in October 2016. That brings the total number of sworn officers to 116. In 2007, Jupiter had 109 sworn officers.
* About $27,000 from forfeiture funds for body vests was approved in 2016. The 120 vests weigh about 40 pounds each and are worn over the police officers’ 20-pound bullet-proof vests. Officers put on the new vests when responding to an active shooter situation that involves a high-powered weapon.
* A 24-foot rigid hull inflatable patrol boat along with a Ford F-250 marked patrol vehicle equipped with a trailer to tow the vessel. With lighting, marking and communications equipment, the total package is about $181,000.
Officers man the boat eight-10 hours a day along the Intracoastal Waterway, Loxahatchee River and when necessary, the Atlantic Ocean. Officers on the boat have the same arrest powers as officers on land. The boat was paid for by impact fees from commercial and residential construction permit fees.
* About $700,000 was approved in November 2016 for 21 new police vehicles. There are about 90 vehicles in the town’s road patrol division. About 13 new vehicles per year are bought, allowing for a renewal of the fleet every seven years. Vehicles are usually replaced when they are damaged or when they reach about 100,000 miles, according to police records.