By Rich Pollack
Crime in southern Palm Beach County’s five small coastal communities remained low in 2014, changing only slightly from a year earlier.
Overall crime in the county dropped about 4 percent while crime in larger South County cities including Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach also dropped.
In the smaller towns of Highland Beach, Gulf Stream, Ocean Ridge, Manalapan and South Palm Beach, there were only a total of three fewer total crimes — 132 in 2014 versus 135 in 2013, according to a report released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement last month.
Three small coastal towns — Gulf Stream, Ocean Ridge and Manalapan — each saw the number of crimes drop slightly, while the number of reported crimes in Highland Beach increased from 33 to 37 and the number of crimes in South Palm Beach rose from 11 to 18.
“That’s the beauty of living in these coastal communities, they’re generally safe,” said Ocean Ridge Police Chief Hal Hutchins.
There were no reported violent crimes — homicides, rapes or robberies — in the coastal communities.
The number of burglaries in the five small coastal towns combined increased by just two, with 27 reported in 2014 and 25 reported in the previous year.
In Ocean Ridge, the number of reported burglaries dropped from 13 in 2013 to eight in 2014.
Hutchins attributes much of the decrease to improved awareness of crime-prevention measures by residents and a concerted effort by his department to be proactive in keeping crime down.
“The fact that people are using their alarms, locking their doors and taking valuables out of plain sight is a huge help,” he said.
While the number of reported burglaries remained the same as in the previous year in both Highland Beach and Manalapan — four and three respectively — South Palm Beach saw the number of break-ins increase from five to 10, while Gulf Stream had two burglaries in 2014, compared to none in 2013.
Larcenies — or thefts — made up the bulk of all crimes committed in the five coastal towns, representing about 66 percent of the total number of crimes. Many of those, according to local police agencies, were thefts from unlocked vehicles or property missing from homes or businesses.
“We stay consistently low in all crimes,” said Highland Beach Police Chief Craig Hartmann. “We encourage our residents to report all crimes no matter how minor so we can stay aware and address any problems in our community.”
Burglaries represented about 20 percent of the crimes, while assaults and motor vehicle thefts represented the remainder.
Larger cities in southern Palm Beach County, including Delray Beach and Boca Raton, saw crime decreases higher than the 4 percent statewide average, with the number of crimes dropping by about 12 percent in Delray Beach and by 9.5 percent in Boca Raton. In Boynton Beach, the number of crimes dropped by about 3.5 percent. In Lantana there was a slight increase of less than 2 percent.
In Delray Beach, Police Chief Jeff Goldman says a number of factors beyond his department’s control play a role in the rise or fall of crime, but credits increased community engagement, the department’s offender-based policing strategy and intelligence-led policing for helping to make a positive impact.
“We can never zero out crime,” he said. “What we challenge our people to do is know where crime is occurring.” Ú