Wide-Ranging Meeting Touches On County, Village Safety Issues

Wellington’s Public Safety Committee heard reports from a number of county and village officials on Wednesday, March 27 at a nearly two-hour meeting filled with presentations and open-ended discussions.

Palm Beach County Public Safety Director Stephanie Sejnoha reported on the divisions of the county’s Public Safety Department. It handles all the 911 calls, some 1.2 million in Palm Beach County last year. The system covers the 700 cell phone towers in the area.

“They tell you to call if you can, text if you can’t, which is good for the hearing-impaired or situations of domestic violence,” Sejnoha said.

The department handles cyber security to prevent a technical attack, and they’re working with carriers to fine-tune the accuracy of the location of cell phone calls.

The department also oversees Palm Beach County Animal Care & Control. The big initiative in that area is “Countdown 2 Zero,” a program with the objective of ending euthanasia for all adoptable animals.

Sejnoha said that the program is working. They currently have dogs at a 91percent save rate, and cats at 73 percent save rate, which is an improvement of 50 percent in the past decade. She noted that the county is renovating the Animal Care & Control facility, and they have a program to vaccinate, sterilize, chip and return stray cats.

Meanwhile the department’s Consumer Affairs Division works within the ordinance that all paid home health caregivers providing daily basic activities have to be licensed and have a background check.

The Division of Justice Services works with adult and youth ex-offenders, helping them to re-enter society as active citizens.

Sejnoha also spoke about the Victim Services Division, which supports victims of violent crime, offering individual and group therapy and a grant program to proactively prevent violence, and the Butterfly House, which is the first centralized sexual assault center.

Finally, Sejnoha noted that the Emergency Management Division ensures activation readiness in planning and responding for emergencies. “They’re ready for a disaster,” she said. “They have the Employee Disaster Response Program, and they have the Alert Palm Beach County, which alerts for severe weather, flooding, police activity and more.”

She said that the Alert program has 150,000 signed up, and they are working to increase that number.

Liz Nunez, with Wellington’s public communications department, expanded the Alert system discussion, explaining about Wellington Alert, which is launching soon and will be a community system replacing the old Code Red system.

“It’s a mass notification service that alerts about emergencies and other important village information,” Nunez said. “You give it a minimum of your last name, your phone number and your e-mail, and they alert you on hurricanes, severe weather, road closing, even community events.”

She said that there is an app called AlertMe Mobile, which is free and works on Apple or Android phones or smartwatches.

“If you were registered for the previous program, do you have to re-register?” Committee Member William Flack asked.

Nunez said that you do in order to update the information. She also explained that because you need a computer to sign up, senior residents can call the village for assistance.

Community Services Director Paulette Edwards added that computers are available at the village facility for residents to use for that purpose.

Village Engineer Tom Lundeen next led a discussion regarding “speed humps” and other traffic calming measures in Wellington.

He said that there is a policy that delineates when a speed hump, stop sign, traffic light or other traffic calming measure is warranted. He explained that they do a traffic study to check the volume and speed of the traffic to determine if certain criteria are met, and he has done 12 studies since October regarding speed humps and to determine if signals were warranted.

Lundeen said that the Florida Department of Transportation encourages communities not to use stop signs to slow traffic and warns that both stop signs and speed humps make traffic speed up once they’ve left the stop sign or are over the hump.

Flack said that his community of Olympia has private roads but needs traffic calming measures. Assistant Village Manager Jim Barnes informed him that private communities can now put stop signs and speed humps in if their own hired engineer signs off on it.

The meeting continued with presentations by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue.

PBSO Lt. Eli Shaivitz reminded residents that 911 calls roll over. “As long as it is ringing, stay on the line,” he said. “It rolls over. If it is busy, then the call goes somewhere else, and they will answer for you.”

Shaivitz reported that crashes and crime in Wellington are down. “The Uniform Crime Report is down in almost every category,” he said, adding that Operation Wild Stallion was a success during the equestrian season.

Shaivitz said there had been an accident with fatalities recently, but it was not DUI or equestrian related.

He said that in 2018, almost 3,800 citations were written, but that stops were triple that number, because they seek compliance, not citations.

Board Member Ernie Zimmerman was worried about golf carts. He said that older people can drive them, but young people and children driving them is a tragedy waiting to happen.

Flack was also worried about youth involved in vehicle burglaries.

“Do you have frustration with the youth that they are back on the street before you have your paperwork finished?” he asked Shaivitz. “I know you can’t control the judges, but something needs to be done with the prosecution of these youth.”

Shaivitz said that his agency has done a great deal to combat vehicle burglaries. “We have a high clearance rate, and we make a lot of arrests,” he said, adding that video cameras also displace crime.

PBCFR Battalion Chief Kenny Wooldridge said that in the first quarter of 2019, there were 432 incidents, compared to 474 for the same period a year before.

“The vast majority are medical, followed by fires and vehicle accidents,” he said, pointing out that response time averaged 6:36 minutes, with February having a seasonal increase.

The next speaker at the meeting was Wellington’s Emergency Management and Public Safety Director Nicole Coates, who will now be acting as liaison to the Public Safety Committee.

Coates said that there will be a joint Public Safety Committee and Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, April 24 and that the “Texting Your Life Away” essay contest will be held during the first part of the next school year.

Coates also pointed out that the department has learned of grant-funded speakers to come before high school students relative to the prevention of drunk driving. A consensus of the board was adequate for her to pursue the matter, but the board voted on it as their only actual vote of the evening.

Coates noted that Wellington recently made the list of the top 50 safest cities in the state. “It was number 33,” she said.

During public comment, the committee heard from Greenview Shores 1 Neighborhood Watch Captain John Shwiner about his and other Neighborhood Watch programs, and Eddie Singer, who spoke about safety for students at Equestrian Trails Elementary School.

Singer noted that a wall had been built to protect students from the possibility of a sniper, but a daily problem is getting students to and from school. He said that parents use the bike paths to drop off students, so the bikes use the sidewalks, displacing pedestrians. He said that Olympia is built out, and that the concrete structures of the schools were not designed for the volume of people. “More people drive, but the schools were designed for walking and biking, and it’s just too far,” he said.

Zimmerman said he would like to see more of a police presence. “Put a traffic cop on every corner by the schools,” he recommended.

It was pointed out that schools and school grounds are administered by the school district, yet the committee still wanted action on making school areas safer.

“These are your children, your most valuable gift. Stick with this,” Committee Member Cherie McBrayer said.

Vice Chair Jacqueline Hutman said a future meeting should cover what you can and cannot do with your cameras from a law enforcement point of view.

Zimmerman said that it was a great meeting with plenty to talk about, many presentations and discussions with the public. “This is the kind of meeting we should be having,” he said, thanking Edwards for heeding his request for such a meeting.