After tapping the brakes due to COVID-19, the blue lights are back for speeders in Loxahatchee Groves, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Craig Turner told the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council on Tuesday, March 2.
Turner, who is the commander for PBSO districts covering The Acreage, Loxahatchee Groves and Westlake, was before the council to deliver his annual crime report.
Overall, crime is “extremely low” in Loxahatchee Groves, he said, noting that there were only three violent crimes against people cases in each of the last two years. In 2020, those crimes were a stabbing, a robbery and a sexual assault, and an arrest has been made in the stabbing incident, he said.
Turner also pointed out that the town averages only 2.5 burglaries per month.
The number of calls received by the PBSO from Loxahatchee Groves was nearly the same in 2020 (2,088) as it was in 2019 (2,186); property crimes were down in 2020 (78) versus 2019 (103); and arrests were up (77 versus 54).
Turner added that auto theft is down, and of those cases, approximately 80 percent are due to people leaving their keys in the vehicle. “Overall, residents are really doing a great job limiting access [to their homes and property]. They’re really taking personal responsibility,” he said.
However, on the roadways, vehicle crashes and hit-and-runs jumped 11.9 percent (92 versus 77) over the previous year, according to the report. Some of the increase can be attributed to more fender-benders at the Loxahatchee Groves Commons shopping center at the intersection of Southern Blvd. and B Road as it has gained increased use, Turner said, but some have involved injuries and two fatalities.
Meanwhile, the number of traffic stops in 2020 was cut almost in half (1,168 versus 2,281 in 2019), and the number of citations issued dropped by 54 percent (464 versus 1,004).
“People aren’t changing their driving habits [due to the virus],” he said. “They’re still being reckless on the roads.”
In fact, the Florida Highway Patrol is reporting the number of people being stopped statewide for going over 100 miles per hour is up tremendously. “It’s the most they’ve ever seen,” Turner said.
That sort of speed is rare in Loxahatchee Groves, but a driver going 60 mph on the 3.5-mile stretch of Okeechobee Blvd. posted at 30 mph, or doing 50 mph down a dusty washboard road with a canal one side and mounted equestrians on the other can be as dangerous, according to residents.
Turner explained that as virus numbers emerged then soared in 2020, deputies were instructed to make speeding stops only in egregious cases to limit interactions for the safety of officers and the public.
Now in 2021, the posture of the PBSO has changed.
“We’re looking to cite more people this year,” Turner said. “We need to make sure people understand the gravity of the situation… We’ll be focused on traffic stops on the letter roads.”
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia urged Turner to focus some resources on quick-shop markets along Southern Blvd., outside of which, she said, men often gather to drink alcohol. Maniglia suggested the focus should be on pressuring business owners to discourage such behavior.
Turner said that the town had never expressed interest in such a focus in the past and that his options and manpower are limited. However, Town Manager Jamie Titcomb and Town Attorney James Brako said they would look into ways the situation might be handled.