Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office District 15 Lt. David Combs explained resources available through the sheriff’s office at last month’s meeting of the Loxahatchee Groves Landowners’ Association.
Loxahatchee Groves has a unique situation in its contractual agreement with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in that the PBSO provides services through the auspices of the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council, Combs said at the March 21 meeting.
“The Town of Loxahatchee Groves has a contractual agreement with us to provide policing services to the town,” Combs said. “The town pays about $275,000 a year for that service, and for policing service, that’s not a tremendous amount of money, but in the real world, that’s a lot of money. My job is to provide the finest possible service for your $275,000 that I possibly can, and I work tirelessly to do that.”
Among many responsibilities, the PBSO is the point agency for the federal Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Department of Homeland Security.
“We have radar systems that go all the way up and down the east coast from Palm Beach County to Miami that are the finest in the world,” Combs said. “The government pays for part of those, and we work very closely with federal agencies, and those are things you do not see in your budget.”
The PBSO has three helicopters, which fully equipped cost nearly $3 million each. “They are the biggest toys in our arsenal, and I am going to tell you they are absolutely worth every penny that you pay for them,” he said.
The department has about 3,700 paid employees and a volunteer corps that tops the force out at over 4,000. “We have an enormous volunteer corps,” he said. “Our COP units, and we have one at District 15, do $15.6 million worth of volunteer hours every year that is free to the people of Palm Beach County.”
Combs praised Loxahatchee Groves residents because they have their own Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). “I don’t think you understand how amazing it is for a town this size to have its own CERT team,” he said.
The PBSO’s vehicle mechanic team is among the finest in the country, he said. “They are all certified. They are so good that the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office sends our mechanics to certified Ford schools so that when we buy our new vehicles, we do our own factory service and Ford pays us, so we get money back for the patrol cars,” Combs said.
It costs more than $20,000 to properly equip a patrol car before the gun racks and weapons are installed, he said. All the patrol cars have weapon racks, and most are equipped with long rifles, AR-15 Bushmaster carbines and shotguns. “The sheriff provides all of our weaponry,” he said. “The pistol on my hip belongs to you.”
The PBSO’s narcotics and tactical units have both been active in Loxahatchee Groves and the surrounding area.
“District 15 is probably the hub of grow houses in Palm Beach County,” he said, adding that the PBSO auto theft unit recently busted another chop shop in The Acreage that specialized in stealing Ford F-350s and shipping them out of the country. “We have an enormous tactical unit that takes care of things like this.”
The PBSO also has both volunteer and staff mounted units that are especially effective in riding Loxahatchee Groves canals where riders can see things that a deputy in a patrol car could not, he said.
“I can assure you that we are a top 5 percent law enforcement agency in the entire nation and there is no place better to work than here, and there is no better service provider,” Combs said. “The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t do anything second-rate.”
Combs said the PBSO sent him to the Southern Police Institute for training that was very expensive but had a good payback. “What I learned at SPI is what I use in District 15, and that is why burglaries in District 15 are 50 percent of what they were two years ago,” he said. “Your tax dollars paid for me to learn my craft, and I took your money and I’m giving it back to you.”
He said Loxahatchee Groves might have only one patrol car, which is not dedicated to the town but a sector that includes the town, but it has a wealth of resources behind it. Combs also goes an extra step in handpicking the deputies that are assigned to the sector that patrols the town.
“We have so many assets in the sheriff’s office that it’s difficult for people who do not understand to get a grip on it,” he said.
To help people understand, the PBSO runs police academies, including a youth academy starting in May at the Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce. The academy will include speakers on how DNA is used to solve crimes, and visits to the PBSO aircraft hangar with demonstrations of the helicopter night vision and infrared scanners.
“We’re always doing things to reach out into our community that you might not see,” he said. “My job is to provide a policing model that will be effective in your town. It must be working, because this month we had 17 burglaries in District 15, and we have had only one in Loxahatchee Groves.”
ABOVE: PBSO District 15 Lt. David Combs.