Traffic accidents were more of a problem in Wellington last year, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jay Hart told village leaders last week, while property and violent crimes, vandalism and juvenile arrests all declined.
During his presentation to the Wellington Village Council on Jan. 22, Hart said that despite what has been reported, crime is not increasing in Wellington.
Hart, who commands the PBSO’s District 8 substation in Wellington, pointed to a recent daily newspaper article and noted that it looked at statistics from only half of the year.
“From January to July, we have a dramatic increase in population,” he said. “The statistics don’t show the whole picture. You have to look at the whole story.”
Hart said that in general, crime is down. Traffic mishaps, though, are a concern. “When it comes to traffic issues, we failed,” he said. “We wanted to keep the crash rate at 2.2 crashes per 100 residents, but we’re at 2.4.”
Hart said Wellington saw 1,380 crashes in 2012, averaging 115 per month. But it wasn’t due to lack of traffic enforcement, he said.
“We had 8,200 vehicle stops in 2012,” Hart said. “We wrote 6,500 traffic citations. That’s a lot of tickets.”
He noted that several issues could be causing accidents — such as drivers using their smartphones. “Texting while driving is not against the law in Florida,” he said. “Until that changes, we will continue to have distracted drivers behind the wheel.”
The PBSO and Wellington are joining together to educate drivers about how dangerous it is to write text messages while driving. “We’re working with your technology department and high school students to create a public service announcement,” Hart said.
Robberies are also a recurring problem in Wellington, Hart said. Deputies have been able to curb the number, however, by stepping up patrols.
“We had 17 robberies in the first half of the year,” he said. “Since then, we’ve had only eight. We recognized where the problems were and cut it by 50 percent. We really feel we’ve made an impact.”
The PBSO surpassed its goals in many areas, he said, seeing a measurable decrease in crime last year. “Property crime declined for the third consecutive year,” Hart said. “Our goal was to hold property crimes below 1,000 [incidents], and we have done that.”
Property crimes decreased from 771 to 745 cases, and 13 percent of those resulted in an arrest. Vehicle burglaries also declined by 2 percent, and residents could help cut that number even more, Hart said.
“In 99 percent of cases, the vehicles are left unlocked,” he said. “As my predecessor said, ‘Wellington is low-crime, not no-crime.’ A lot of us live behind gates and leave our vehicles unlocked, but there are people walking around and breaking into cars.”
Recently, though, there has been an uptick in residential burglaries.
“We have arrested several people. We have several leads. A lot of these cases are foreclosed homes where people go in and steal a fridge or oven, or even the marble from the countertops,” Hart said. “Those are tough to solve because we don’t have a victim. The banks won’t take responsibility, and the owners are gone.”
Other issues of concern, such as vandalism and domestic/violent crimes, occurred less often in 2012 than the year before. “Domestic violence incidents fell 23 percent in 2012,” he said. “And violent crimes declined by 25 incidents — from 77 to 52. That’s a real milestone. We’d like to see it decline again next year. Vandalism also decreased 20 percent last year.”
Hart said that some crimes, such as domestic violence, violent assaults and vandalism, may arise because of external factors unrelated to enforcement.
“We can’t tell if we’re having any effect,” he said. “It might be that someone finally broke up with their boyfriend after slashing his tires for the third time. That would be a vandalism. But we have tried to be proactive. We have a great program for domestic incidents where, when we come to your house, we try to give you as much information as we can to help. We try to work hard to keep from having to go back to that home.”
One of the areas where Hart said sheriff’s officials have seen success is juvenile enforcement, specifically the rate at which children on probation get arrested again.
“We took a hard stand on juveniles in 2011,” he said. “As a result, juvenile arrests are down 13 percent. A lot of kids are in the system.”
He credited PBSO Deputy Dan Delia for his dedication to the program. “He took a personal interest in our juvenile arrest monitoring program,” Hart said. “Kids on probation realized that if their curfew is 6 p.m. and they come home at 6:15 p.m., they’re going to jail. They realized we are watching them.”
This is important, Hart said, because many reported burglaries are committed by juveniles in Wellington.
“About 43 percent of the burglary arrests in 2012 were juveniles,” he said. “So if you’re wondering why we took such a hard stance, it’s because almost 50 percent of our cases were juvenile offenders.”
Hart said that lowering property crime and vehicle collisions will continue to be a goal for PBSO in the coming year.
ABOVE: Capt. Jay Hart