By: Jeff Perlman Editor in Chief
Delray Beach Police Chief Jeff Goldman has a vision.
Over the next 3-5 years he hopes to grow the department from 156 to 170 sworn officers, fill several key civilian staff positions and position the department to meet the needs of an increasingly complex city.
From heroin addiction and a troubling number of shootings related to a Hatfield and McCoy like feud to the challenges of protecting a very active city and a busy beach, Chief Goldman is pitching leaders on the need to staff up.
Among the constituencies he has to convince—City Manager Don Cooper, City Commissioners and ultimately taxpayers. Goldman, an especially visible chief, has been making the rounds of homeowner associations and chamber of commerce meetings to make the case.
According to departmental records, the department actually has fewer officers and civilian support staff today than it did in 2008. Partly a result of belt tightening during the economic crisis, the count of sworn officers went from 160 officers in ’08 to 156 today. The civilian staff numbered 73 in 2008 and is now at 67.
While Part 1 crimes–murder and non-negligent homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny-theft, and arson—have decreased from 6,767 in 1995 to 2,874 in 2015, 911 calls are up dramatically to 55,964 in 2015 from 8,187 in 2011. Dispatched calls have nearly doubled from just over 72,000 in 2011 to over 141,500 in 2015, driven in part by a serious and growing heroin and opiate addiction problem plaguing Delray and many other cities across the country.
With well over 200 rehabilitation facilities—some say the number is double—protecting and serving Delray is a complex task. Goldman says 46 percent of incident reports in 2015 were related to addiction related issues.
Many of his officers report responding to 10 calls relating to addiction per 12 hour shift.
While Delray’s population is reported at about 64,000 people, Goldman says on any given day over 100,000 people are in the city’s 16 square mile limits. City Manager Cooper estimates the number at closer to 140,000 people.
The responsibility to protect the city is left to what has become a very young force. Goldman says 38 percent of his officers have less than five years experience, 29 percent have less than three years of experience.
Union officials have expressed concerns that the city could lose some of its younger officers to larger neighboring agencies which offer better wages and pensions. The most recent contract that was ratified cut the pension multiplier—the formula used to determine future pension wages—for the department’s newer officers. In 2001, the department suffered from debilitating attrition issues until the City Commission increased wages and raised the multiplier to better compete with the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, Fort Lauderdale, Boca and West Palm Beach.
The move worked and stopped the attrition while also allowing the department to rebuild. But such increases also come with a price– especially if the pension fund does not perform well.
While labor negotiations fall outside the purview of the chief, Goldman is nonetheless being tasked with maintaining an essential city service. While he is proud of his department’s performance, which he has called excellent (an assessment commissioners agreed with during a recent review of the city manager) Goldman would like to instill a culture of continuous improvement ensuring the department can handle whatever issues arise.
As a result, he plans to add a few key civilian positions dealing with special projects, special populations (mental health, drug abuse) and a position that will be dedicated to new body cameras that officers will wear.
The total cost of the wish list, which may be parceled out of over several years, is estimated at about $1.2 million in what is already a $31 million budget. Newly hired Fire Rescue Chief Neil DeJesus is also seeking upgrades totaling $800,000 to meet current and future needs.
Goldman says his goal is to take a long term view and stay ahead of the curve by planning pro-actively. He also said his department works closely with community groups such as the Drug Task Force and is always on the hunt for grants to offset budgetary strains. For example, the Task Force recently obtained a major grant for Narcan, a drug which reverses heroin overdoses.
“We have a strong partnership,” says Suzanne Spencer, who leads the Task Force. “We work very closely with the chief and the department.”
By: Jeff Perlman Editor in Chief