By Dan Moffett
Briny Breezes council members say choosing the right police department to serve their town didn’t come down to questions about performance. The deciding factor was cost.
“It was a tough decision. Either Boynton Beach or Ocean Ridge would do a good job for us,” said Council President Sue Thaler. “It was dollars and sense that made the difference between them.”
With a 3-2 vote on Sept. 8, the council approved a three-year contract with Boynton Beach, ending a long-running relationship with the Ocean Ridge Police Department.
“We tried to make an apple-to-apple comparison between them,” Councilman Bobby Jurovaty said. “And the one apple that stood out was price. It’s sad really. There was nothing wrong with what Ocean Ridge did.”
Jurovaty joined Thaler and Councilman Allen “Chick” Behringer in voting for the switch to Boynton; James McCormick and Christina Adams voted to stay with Ocean Ridge.
Boynton Beach offered Briny a three-year contract that was roughly 12 percent lower in cost than Ocean Ridge’s: $618,792 compared with $691,965. Ocean Ridge also offered a five-year plan that also came higher than Boynton’s at $665,352 for the first three years.
Thaler said that, other than price, the contracts are “virtually identical” in services. Boynton officially takes over on Oct. 1.
The contract with Boynton Beach returns Chris Yannuzzi as the face of law enforcement in Briny. Yannuzzi was forced to resign as Ocean Ridge’s police chief in 2015 after a dispute with the town’s vice mayor, Richard Lucibella. Yannuzzi then joined Boynton’s police department as a captain in charge of code compliance. He now will become the department’s “primary contact” for Briny residents and their deputy town marshal.
“He is intimately familiar with the town and the people here,” said Boynton Police Chief Jeffrey Katz, who told the Town Council his agency was committed to delivering the policing the town wants.
Ocean Ridge police have covered Briny Breezes for most of the last three decades, except for a three-year period between 2007 and 2010 when Boynton Beach had the contract. Briny residents were not happy with Boynton’s performance then and switched back to Ocean Ridge, many believing a smaller neighbor delivered better service. Boynton Beach has 155 sworn officers who police roughly 70,000 people; Ocean Ridge has 16 full-time officers who police 1,700.
Katz said he has overhauled the department since taking over as chief three years ago and assured the council that performance will be better than before. He promised improved response times despite his mainland base, saying his officers typically beat the Boynton Beach Fire Department — with whom Briny just signed a new long-term contract for service — to emergency calls. Katz said his department can work with bridge tenders to ensure they can get to the island for emergencies and that Boynton will call on Ocean Ridge police for help if needed.
Mayor Mike Hill, who participated in the meeting by phone and under the town charter didn’t have a vote, said he had concerns that the larger department might not understand “that a soft touch often is the best way to deal with people in retirement communities like Briny Breezes.” Hill said when he lived in Highland Beach the town ran into trouble when it started hiring retired New York officers.
Katz said he has raised hiring standards in Boynton and only 1.2 percent of applicants have gotten jobs. “None of them are New York cops,” he said. The chief told the council his department understands the type of community policing Briny wants.
Adams and McCormick said they were comfortable with the decision despite voting the other way. Adams said she thought Ocean Ridge was better equipped to keep the town safe and the cost difference didn’t matter. “When you pan the money out over five years, it’s really not that much,” she said.
McCormick said he supported Ocean Ridge “out of loyalty and because of the experience they have working here.”
Ocean Ridge Police Chief Hal Hutchins said his department will continue to have a close working relationship with his counterparts in Boynton Beach, and said he will do what it takes to ensure the transition goes smoothly.