Related story: Ocean Ridge: Three top officials leaving in latest Town Hall turmoil
By Steve Plunkett
Richard Jones will leave his job as Ocean Ridge’s police chief by May 11 to take the same position in nearby Gulf Stream.
Gulf Stream town commissioners approved the new hire Feb. 10. His two-month-old contract with Ocean Ridge requires him to give up to 90 days’ notice, Jones said.
“I have already started to look for a replacement to fill the position that I am vacating so I can move that process along as quickly as possible,” he said. “I could potentially start sooner depending on what type of replacement I have and what kind of transition we think is necessary.”
Jones, who wore a business suit to the Gulf Stream meeting rather than a uniform, said he would solve the problem of recurrent vacancies in Gulf Stream’s 14-officer police force by building morale and making it “the go-to law enforcement agency in the county.”
“We should be the agency that everyone else is looking to, not only to see what we’re doing operationally and with our vision, but also what we’re doing with our technology and how we treat our staff,” he said.
He would boost morale, he said, “through a method that I believe in — being a worker, not just a police chief.”
“I believe in putting my feet on the ground and doing what I ask my officers to do, to demonstrate to them that I’m with them every step of the way. … It makes them realize that there’s value in their leader and I’m not asking them anything that I’m not willing to do.”
Jones, whose duties in Ocean Ridge include being police chief for Briny Breezes, also said he would be proactive in recruiting and expand Gulf Stream’s searches for potential hires to military veterans and law enforcement agencies beyond the local area.
Commissioners unanimously approved Jones’ hiring.
“We’re delighted to have you and congratulations on your appointment,” Commissioner Thom Smith said.
Mayor Scott Morgan said he spoke with Ocean Ridge Mayor Susan Hurlburt “and while they are sorry to lose him, she could not have been more enthusiastic in her praise of his skill, his vision, his energy, his administrative skills and his ability to take Gulf Stream, as she said, and move our Police Department legitimately into the 21st century.”
Jones, whose departure came as a shock to Ocean Ridge officials, said he was not actively looking for a job until he learned that Gulf Stream planned to look outside its department for candidates to replace retiring chief Ed Allen.
Jones, 42, is coming to Gulf Stream with 25 years of experience, the last eight in Ocean Ridge, where he rose from road patrol to chief and in 2020 was named the town’s employee of the year.
He and his wife, Erin, make their home in Port St. Lucie. They have two sons: Michael, 22, a Marine veteran, and Matthew, 17, a high school student.
Ocean Ridge gave Jones a three-year contract on Jan. 9 after he had been its chief for more than 16 months. His pay there is $115,763 a year. His salary in Gulf Stream will be negotiated.
Allen, who worked in Gulf Stream almost 35 years, announced in early December that he would leave the department on Jan. 31. He was paid $143,771 annually.
Town Manager Greg Dunham said that he received inquiries and résumés about the job from a Palm Beach County sheriff’s command officer in Wellington, a Delray Beach police lieutenant and a Gulf Stream police sergeant. He explored hiring a headhunter firm for $25,000 to $35,000 and using the Florida Police Chiefs Association for a $10,000 or $20,000 search.
As he did that, the town was approached by Jones. Dunham, Morgan and Assistant Town Manager Trey Nazzaro met with Jones for about two hours, Dunham said.
“I found the chief to be intelligent, motivated, experienced and creative with a high level of integrity, diplomacy and sensitivity,” Dunham said.
Jones’ résumé package included thank-you notes and letters of commendation dating back to 1999 when he was a public safety dispatcher in Clewiston.
In 2015 his predecessor, Ocean Ridge Police Chief Hal Hutchins, commended Jones for performing a plainclothes surveillance at Oceanfront Park after a number of cars had been burglarized.
“Based on your tenacity, caring and dedication to duty, you effectively apprehended a subject responsible for a small wave of crime at the Boynton Oceanfront Park, thereby enhancing the safety of the public,” Hutchins wrote.
And in 2021 John Mitchell stopped by the police station for help gathering details surrounding the death of his mother, Ocean Ridge resident Eileen Pettus, after a car accident in Melbourne.
“I was fortunate enough to meet with Lieutenant Richard Jones who offered me, not only his heartfelt condolences, but invaluable insight into how I might proceed. ... Never in my 50 years have I encountered an officer so kind and empathetic, while offering such incredible help,” Mitchell wrote. Jones started the week of his new hiring by persuading the Ocean Ridge Town Commission on Feb. 6 to approve one-time pay raises and benefits increases for his 15 officers for the rest of the year in an effort to attract more officers and retain current ones.
Jones made the request after compiling a survey that showed Ocean Ridge’s officers made drastically less in salary, benefits and health insurance than those on other coastal police forces in Palm Beach County.
Each officer will get a $7,500 salary bump the rest of the year, a $5,000 lump-sum vehicle reimbursement payment and a 50% health insurance match. Money for the changes will come from $213,186 that was freed up by freezing two vacancies.
Joe Capozzi contributed to this story.
Congratulations to to the town of Gulfstream on your new Chief, I had the pleasure of working with Rich and can say he will be a great asset to your town. He knows how to treat his team and was always out there with us lending a hand on the road..Congratulations Chief