Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Rolando Silva, commander of the District 8 substation in Wellington, presented the PBSO’s annual report to the Wellington Village Council on Tuesday, May 10.
While crime statistics were up in 2021 when compared to 2020, Silva stressed that was mostly a function of the pandemic, which saw crime rates plummet in 2020 due to people spending much of the year in lockdown. The 2021 figures were more in line with the figures from 2018 and 2019, which includes a long-term downward trend in property crimes and vehicle crashes.
Silva began his presentation by noting that Wellington was recently named No. 8 on a list of the 50 safest municipalities in Florida by the safety consulting firm Safewise.
“We are second when it comes to populated cities over 50,000,” he said. “That was a tremendous honor to get, and it is the highest Wellington has ever been ranked in this report.”
Comparing 2020 to 2021, there was an increase of 12.1 percent of overall total offenses.
“Remember, that is compared to 2020, which was the year of the great pandemic,” Silva said. “Everything was shut down for the most part during that year. In 2021, we were a lot more normal, going back to regular activities.”
Silva showed statistics noting that while crimes were up 2020 to 2021, in many cases, they were down significantly from the 2019 numbers, the year before the pandemic. For example, property crimes rose from 807 to 973 from 2020 to 2021, but that is down from 1,068 in 2019 and 1,198 in 2018. The same effect can be seen in vehicle crashes, which were up from 1,067 to 1,225 in 2021 — but down from the pre-pandemic level of 1,392.
Person crimes, such as domestic incidents and battery cases, were up somewhat, even when compared to the 2019 numbers. “We do need to keep an eye on these types of crimes,” Silva said.
Silva was particularly proud of the long-term trend lines in property crimes and vehicle crashes. Often pointed to as the biggest law enforcement issues facing Wellington, the 2021 numbers were down significantly over 2018 and 2019, despite growth in the region.
“We put crashes and crash prevention at the top of our list,” Silva said. “We should be focusing our attention on those things that someone is likely to be harmed by in this village, which in our view is traffic and traffic safety.”
The PBSO does put a large portion of its Wellington manpower on traffic issues, with citations up nearly 57 percent in 2021 from 2020, and up even further in the beginning of 2022.
“We are really putting a lot of effort into our traffic enforcement,” Silva said, adding that his agency had met its goal of keeping the crash rate at less than 3.0 crashes per 100 village residents with a 2021 rate of 1.983.
Traffic safety and prevention of burglaries and thefts will remain the PBSO’s top goals in Wellington in 2022 and moving forward.
Silva called attention to “Operation Mall Shield” during the last holiday season, which aimed to prevent smash-and-grab crimes at the Mall at Wellington Green. The PBSO worked with the mall on an action plan to successfully prevent such occurrences. “A lot of guys worked a lot of extra hours during the holiday times to make that happen,” he said.
Wellington compares favorably when compared to surrounding communities. The council was glad to see a slide from Silva that showed Wellington’s crime rates below communities such as Palm Beach Gardens and Jupiter. Silva noted that Royal Palm Beach’s crime rates were also quite low in 2021.
Silva credited the village’s license plate reader (LPR) program for helping fight crime in the community. He went over a number of crime incidents solved with the LPR program. “I think that is why you see those property crime numbers trend down in the right direction,” he said.
Other crime-fighting focuses over the next year will include a return to active shooter training at the mall after a two-year hiatus, pursuing grant opportunities to bring additional resources into Wellington, and working with community partners on crime prevention information.
Silva also wants to make sure that District 8, although part of the PBSO, maintains the feel of a “hometown community police department.” The near future may include the addition of another traffic deputy. “We are a traffic-enforcement-oriented district,” he said.
Council members were supportive of the PBSO’s efforts in the community.
“You had a tough job tonight because we knew that these numbers were going to be a little bit skewed due to COVID-19,” Vice Mayor Michael Drahos told Silva. “I think that only a 12 percent increase in these numbers is really an extraordinary accomplishment.”
He was thrilled with the trend line on the property crime numbers. “I really feel that our efforts have borne fruit, and we are seeing it now through the statistics,” Drahos said.
Councilman Michael Napoleone was glad to see the PBSO keeping its focus on community policing.
“You are part of the PBSO mothership, but you are our hometown police department,” he said. “I think our residents recognize that through all your community involvement. Our crime remains low, and you guys have done a fantastic job with your increased traffic enforcement.”
Councilman John McGovern said that the village is proud of its longtime partnership with the PBSO.
“The trend is that crime in almost every category is either flat or decreased, and in some cases, it is massively decreased,” he said. “We are chasing the crime issues that exist in our town and making them markedly better year in and year out. That is the key to success.”
Councilwoman Tanya Siskind echoed the sentiments of her colleagues. “Your crime prevention efforts are obviously paying off — it’s proven in the numbers,” she said.
Mayor Anne Gerwig attributed the increase in person crimes partially to mental stress that has been exacerbated due to the pandemic. “I appreciate whatever expertise you could bring to that,” she said. “That’s what’s overflowing into our youth and into our families.”
She was also thankful for programs such as “Operation Mall Shield.”
“That was work to make sure something didn’t happen, and that’s what we like to see,” Gerwig said.
Joining Silva for the presentation was PBSO Major Eric Coleman. “We really appreciate all the support that this council has given us,” he said. “It’s a huge component of our success.”
Coleman noted that a therapy dog will soon be assigned to the village.
“They have proven to be a great asset to bring to those traumatic cases,” he said. “We bring them to accident scenes and to victims of domestic and sexual abuse. It’s a great resource.”
In other business:
• The council gave village staff the go-ahead to continue negotiations with Wellington Athletics LLC, the company led by National Football League linebacker Jon Bostic and Major League Baseball coach Devon Travis, both Palm Beach Central High School graduates, who aim to redevelop the underutilized Wellington Community Park on South Shore Blvd. into a professional sports training facility.
The council had previously supported the ongoing negotiations, but a recent change to the proposal required another council vote. It came about because of a public financing proposal in the latest version under consideration.
“When this proposal first came in, the idea was they were going to self-fund the proposal,” Village Attorney Laurie Cohen said. “When you shift that funding mechanism to public bonds, that changed the equation a little bit.”
Village Manager Jim Barnes said that Wellington will now need to follow stricter regulations in Florida statutes, including re-opening the request for proposals for a 21-day notice period, along with greater financial oversight.
“Beyond the statute, we need to make sure that the whole project works,” Gerwig said.
Barnes said that the village will make sure of that.
“Experts will be brought in to review the proposal,” he said, noting that this is just one step in a long process. “Any agreement will return for additional votes, including the bond financing, several times.”
• The council recognized several high school students for their recent accomplishments, including Palm Beach Central High School student author Ryan Snider, who recently published his 281-page debut novel titled 70 Meters about a floating city called New Atlantis.
Ryan’s brother Reid Snider was also honored for his accomplishments, including participation in the Wellington Youth Council and his recent appointment as vice president of the Student Government Association of Palm Beach County.
Wellington High School student Tessie Goron was honored for her Philanthropy Tank project. Goron was recently awarded $9,000 by the nonprofit to implement her project called “Drop the Vape,” aimed at decreasing the number of teen vape users in Palm Beach County by establishing a new educational course for students caught with vape devices on school campuses.