Residents In RPB’s Saratoga Pines Angry About Unruly Youth

Deputy Jodi Benson, Section Manager Diane Smith and Deputy Brian Randall speak to residents.

By M. Dennis Taylor

Approximately 80 angry Royal Palm Beach residents braved cool temperatures to meet poolside at the Saratoga Pines Recreation Center on the evening of Friday, March 9, at a special homeowners’ association meeting to discuss problems with youth in the neighborhood.

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office District 9 Community Outreach and Crime Prevention Section Manager Diane Smith attempted to answer questions and control the unruly crowd. “Constructive” was her word of the day, and after repeating it more than a dozen times, she said she wasn’t going to say it again.

The neighborhood residents were fed up with what they described as out-of-control youth on bicycles who have been harassing residents with name calling, trespassing, peeping in windows, knocking on doors late at night, vandalism, riding bicycles in the street and not letting cars by, and making obscene gestures at drivers.

HOA Treasurer Toby Siegel arranged the meeting and invited the PBSO to attend. Two Royal Palm Beach-based deputies, Jodi Benson and Brian Randall, joined Smith and tried to answer questions, which were mostly comments and complaints about youth and parenting, and stories of the children “creating havoc.”

“All I’m hearing is negativity,” Siegel said. “Negativity solves nothing. A group of kids has brought us together. It takes a village — why can’t we organize these kids and channel their energy?”

Smith began by saying she wanted to bring the emotion level down a notch, and that the communication within the community is great, but not everything on social media is accurate and rumors abound.

She urged residents to call the PBSO when the incidents occur. “We don’t know about it unless you call us,” Smith said. “It’s important to you, that’s why you are calling, it will be addressed.”

Benson said that Royal Palm Beach is 11 square miles, and that unless they were investigating a felony at the moment of a call, the response time should be within five minutes. “Please don’t take this into your own hands,” she stressed. “Call us at (561) 688-3400.”

Smith added, “If you have a surveillance camera — or can make a video with your phone — the sheriff’s office can capture the image, and if a crime has occurred, they will track down the individuals.”

Some ticket-able crimes Smith described are: riding bikes, for those under 16 years of age, without a helmet; riding bikes facing traffic; and impeding traffic in the street. Trespassing, looking in windows and vandalism are crimes in which the perpetrator is subject to arrest. Finger gestures, name calling and cursing, while potentially a sign of poor parenting, are not crimes, Smith explained.

Smith said there is a progression where the officers talk to the individuals and address the situation, providing education and even a free bike helmet if the child doesn’t have one and that is the problem. Next, the individual is warned, followed by tickets and arrest.

“There are consequences,” she said. “I don’t want to you think nothing is being done, because it is. We just don’t announce when an arrest is made.”

One resident demanded that parents be hit with consequences for unruly youth.

Smith said that the PBSO investigates crimes and with pictures as evidence. They will track down the offenders, if they are youths or adults, and the department is already working on some of the cases that the residents were speaking about.

She noted that HOA meetings do not usually have such a large attendance as this one did, so she recognized this was an important issue to the crowd.

“I know you want instant gratification,” she said. “It takes time.”