By Kelly Wolfe
It’s 8:03 on a Saturday night in January — arguably the busy season — on a mild evening just after the cold snap.
Boynton Beach Police Officer Mike Mulcahy is on duty. In the past hour and a half, he’s cruised each Briny street; shined his spotlight in between each trailer; walked the length of the clubhouse and checked the beach for vagrants. He’s sat at the red light; shined lights on the boats and been invited to a fish fry.
Suddenly, screams pierce the quiet night. Mulcahy races in that direction. In his bulletproof vest, flashlight and sidearm, he’s ready for anything.
But what Mulcahy discovers is an overzealous swimmer.
This is the Briny beat.
It came at a price tag of $212,100 in 2009, and Briny Beach’s contract with Boynton Beach calls for a 4 percent increase each year. But the contact expires Oct. 1. Briny has sent out a request for proposals. And residents are expected to be locked in debate over the next few months, weighing the cost of the contract with whether this level of service is required.
“It’s a lot of money,” said Harold “Doc” Burton, who’s had a presence in Briny for the past 40 years. “Does Briny get its money’s worth? I can’t tell you that. It’s something that deserves, and should have, discussion. I don’t know.”
Before hiring Boynton, Briny contracted with the 13-member Ocean Ridge Police Department for much less — $149,860 in 2006-07. This year the department responded to Briny’s RFP with a proposed cost of $185,000 and without conditions requiring that if an emergency were to occur in both places at the same time, police officers would respond to Ocean Ridge first — a condition objected to by Briny. Still, Briny Breezes had requirements that Ocean Ridge felt they couldn’t meet.
"They wanted us to guarantee that a police officer would sit in Briny Breezes for eight hours," Terry Brown, Ocean Ridge City Councilman said. "That's a whole shift. We can't do that."
Briny Breezes Mayor Roger Bennett said the town started to get quite a few “curious visitors” back in 2006, when it looked like a property sale was going to make the residents of Briny millionaires. He said the town’s contract with Boynton is worth the extra money.
“We were concerned with the traffic we were getting,” Bennett said. “That has been really controlled and we don’t have any problem with that now. “
Bennett said he feels a lot more secure with Boynton than he did with Ocean Ridge. “It’s just my view, but they pay more attention to us,” Bennett said. He added, “They really know the criminal element. They have all kinds of problems in Boynton and they know what’s going on in this world.”
After the swimmer, Mulcahy cruised by the ping pong tournament and exchanged pleasantries with everyone inside.
Then he crossed the street and busted in on a six-woman Dominoes game.
“Hide the money, hide the money,” they shout when the tall police officer strides in.
Even with the bulletproof vest, Mulcahy is no match for these ladies.
“Do you have a grandfather?” one asks.
They ask Mulcahy where his counterpart is. (Two Boynton Beach officers are unofficially assigned to the Briny beat. They take turns on the night shift.)
“We haven’t seen him in a while,” one lady said. Then she points at her buddies. “They asked him to frisk me and he never came back.”
He said he’s not bored out here. He said he enjoys the people, and enjoys keeping an eye on things. When the weather is nice, he rides a police-issued bicycle. It’s a welcome break from Boynton Beach — where crime is so steady the city is a regular on the television show Cops.
“I catch my breath here,” he said.
But when dispatch reports that a gun-wielding man has barricaded himself in his house, Mulcahy can’t help himself. “I would love to be there right now,” he said.
Harold “Doc” Burton said the biggest crime in Briny involves trespassers — people who aren’t shareholders sneaking on the property and using the Laundromat, beach or pool.
These are all matters Briny resident Rita Taylor said could be handled by a smaller department.
“I don’t have anything against Boynton,” Taylor said. “I just think the needs of Boynton are different than the needs of Briny.”
She said, for her, it’s not so much about the money as it is about having a force that understands the community.
“We don’t have bars or fights breaking out; we’re all too old to fight,” she said. “We have trespassing, loose dogs or a car going the wrong way.”