Though many crime statistics are holding steady or falling, persistent juvenile crimes and an Aug. 17 shooting during a football game that left two adults injured at Palm Beach Central High School dominated discussion of a requested 3 percent rise in the village’s budget for Palm Beach County Sheriff’s services.
Just last weekend, teenagers as young as 13 and 14 drove a stolen vehicle to burglarize five other cars and initially got away despite the deployment of resources including a helicopter, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Capt. Rolando Silva told village leaders.
Through “good police work” the teens, from Belle Glade, were apprehended later in the night and confessed, Silva said.
The talk highlighted what was on the minds of law enforcement and Wellington leaders before they approved a 3 percent increase in the budget for PBSO services Tuesday evening to about $9.5 million for the year starting Oct. 1. That includes no new deputies for now, though the village has recently approved spending on additional equipment and resources including 14 new radar speed-detection devices and more school crossing guards.
PBSO provides police services by contract to Wellington and several other municipalities in Palm Beach County.
Arrests in the village rose to 812 in 2017 from 681 the year before, with a big jump in juvenile arrests, to 144 from 97, according to reports prepared before the meeting.
Many of the juveniles live in and around the community though others come from miles away, Silva said. In the majority of vehicle burglaries, car doors were unlocked, he noted.
Mayor Anne Gerwig said a constituent raised a question with her about high school games: The single point of entry.
“We looked at that as a measure to provide safety,” Gerwig said.
Multiple agencies including school district police are involved in that, and officials have revised policies to include earlier kickoff times, but in a panicked environment where people were trying to get away, an orderly exit was a “problem,” Gerwig said.
In addition to two adult shooting victims, a Wellington resident was trampled in the melee that followed the shooting and required surgery.
The atmosphere at high school games feels different than it was just a few years ago, Gerwig said.
“It’s not the same as it was even two or three years ago,” Silva agreed. “It’s evolving.”
He said, “It was an intense night for all of us.”
Silva said one of his deputies was injured as well, which he later explained as a minor knee injury after a fall.
An impromptu hole cut in the fence facing Forest Hill Boulevard allowed some people to leave that way, he said.
Several council members praised PBSO’s rapid response and expressed confidence in its efforts. Silva declined to comment on reports 200 PBSO officers were mobilized, but said an active-shooter training exercise this summer at the same high school left the agency well prepared to react.
He said no arrests have been made, but he could not discuss details and that doesn’t mean an arrest won’t happen soon.