Chief Edward Hillery
Years in Ocean Ridge: 17 years as chief of police
Past life: Spent 23 and a half years with the Boynton Beach Police force, retiring as chief of police before coming to Ocean Ridge; spent seven years as a county investigator in Essex County, N.J. before coming to Florida for the weather; spent four years in the Air Force after graduating high school. Biggest hurdle: Came to Ocean Ridge following a financial scandal involving Chief Bruce Schroeder, who resigned. He quickly had to lift morale at the department. “I called everybody into a meeting and explained that the squabbling was over. After about 18 months, everything settled down.”
Known for: Hiring a psychic to help solve a murder while chief of Boynton Beach Police Department. The psychic did not help solve the crime, but when an inmate later confessed to the crime, his story matched a lot of what the psychic told Hillery. The psychic knew the woman was a twin, that she’d been killed with a knife with a wooden handle, where the knife had been hidden, and what the killer was wearing.
Last day as chief of police: March 31
Lt. Chris Yannuzzi
Years in Ocean Ridge: four, hired to be Ocean Ridge’s first full-time investigator.
Past life: Spent 25 years with the Boynton Beach Police Department; Spent four years as a police officer in Bound Brook,N.J., before fleeing the snow and coming to Florida; began his career as a police dispatcher in Watchung, N.J.
Biggest hurdle: It may be ahead. He’s going to have to figure out how to offer the same level of service with fewer tax dollars to spend.
Known for: Directing the new building’s construction.
First day as chief of police: April 1
By Kelly Wolfe
In this seaside village Police Department, sunlight floods every room, coffee is offered in a real mug with a coaster and a choice of creamers (vanilla or regular).
The guy who runs this place — Chief Edward Hillery Jr. — is a relaxed presence in a white, polo-style shirt with a badge embroidered over his heart. It’s pulled tight and tucked into dark blue shorts. He’s been here 17 years, and said in that time he’s received more complaints about bicyclists on A1A than anything else.
But Hillery’s last day is March 31. He’ll pass the torch to Lt. Chris Yannuzzi, who is happy to take over.
Sure, being chief of police of Ocean Ridge is not the biggest torch in the world — if you want to go around comparing torches — but it burns bright with history and stories that are funny, endearing and, for some people, infuriating. But they are told they same way a large, dysfunctional family might rehash the past around the Thanksgiving table.
“We’re very protective of our police,” said Gail Adams Aaskov, Ocean Ridge’s unofficial historian. If she recognizes the irony of this statement, she doesn’t let on. Everything she’s got to say she already wrote down in her book, The History of Ocean Ridge, back in 1995, she said.
Other people want to tell stories about the Ocean Ridge Police, just not for publication.
“I don’t want to get Doc in trouble,” one longtime resident said of her favorite patrolman.
“Doc” is Senior Officer Wavell Darville — the Ocean Ridge police officer known for keeping dog biscuits in his cruiser. “Sophie gets so excited, she climbs into the car with him,” she said of her dog. Hillery appears to know his residents as well as Sophie knows Doc. An outsider vaguely describes an Ocean Ridge homeowner and Hillery brightens.
“I know that guy,” he said. “Keeps his house as neat as a pin. Always working on it.”
But not everyone is as charmed by the ORPD. And vice versa.
“I’m your man,” said Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino, when asked if he had ever had a run in with Ocean Ridge’s finest.
It was about 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning and Cerabino was bicycling with a friend on A1A when they both cruised through a yellow light, he said.
Soon, they were being followed by a cruiser. And then, on a loudspeaker: “Please pull the bikes over to the side of the road.”
The police officer asked for a driver’s license.
“I don’t have a driver’s license, I’m riding a bike,” Cerabino answered.
That’s when the police officer took Cerabino’s fingerprints — right there on the side of A1A.
Then he was given a $206 ticket for running a red light.
But Cerabino wasn’t going to let it go that easy.
“We weren’t throwing ourselves into traffic,” he said. “We were just a couple of guys riding bikes.” So he took his ticket to court.
“The judge laughed,” he said. He ordered Cerabino to pay $100 and court costs — which he still thought was unfair.
“Whatever,” he said, more than a year later. “I wasn’t going to dispute it. It was clearly, to me, a fundraising effort.”
But it’s still a lot better than it was in the bad old days, said Tom Warnke, a lifelong area resident. He was a teenager during the regime of Ocean Ridge Police Chief James Kelly,who, according to Warnke and news reports, had an antagonistic relationship with the local youth — especially surfers.
“I don’t think anyone got along with him,” Warnke said.
Back then, he said, Ocean Ridge was best known for being listed in AAA guidebooks as being a speed trap.
“Kelly would stop teenagers for no reason, and cuss us out in front of our girlfriends,” Warnke said. The teens, in turn, would drive Kelly crazy by jumping off the Boynton Inlet Bridge and into the waves below — where Kelly wouldn’t follow.
“Some people would wait for him to get close, then wave to him and jump off the bridge,” Warnke said.
Warnke said to combat large groups of youngsters, Kelly would write people up for unlawful assembly if they gathered in groups of more than three.
Under Kelly’s rule, the town was declared the Safest Town in America. Kelly received special recognition from the Nixon White House. Later, it was discovered Kelly hadn’t been reporting his crime statistics to the state.
Hillery doesn’t leave under such a cloud. If there’s a favorite story about Hillery it’s the time he, as police chief in Boynton Beach, hired a psychic to help solve a murder. (Ask him and he’ll tell you about it.)
To be here, in this town, he said, is “something you couldn’t put a price on… The people treated me very well. I hope I’ve met their expectations.”
Past Ocean Ridge Chiefs of Police
Edward Hillery — 1993 to 2010. Retires March 31. A retirement dinner celebrating his 17 years of dedicated service with the Ocean Ridge Police Department and 48 years in law enforcement will be held April 16 at Benvenuto’s in Boynton Beach.
James Olejniczak — Acting chief end of 1992.
Bruce Schroeder — 1989 to 1992. Resigned after town found evidence he had fixed tickets and mismanaged money.
Louis Spano — 1969 to 1989. Became frustrated with Town Council. Said in newspaper article, “asking for $600 was like asking for $6,000.”
James Kelly — Start date unknown, but published reports show him as police chief in 1961. He was fired in 1969 for “lack of proper management and administration.”
Kenneth O’Rourke — 1958 to unknown - Previously worked as a Boynton Beach patrolman and District 4 constable. 1964 newspaper article calls him “former police chief who cleaned out the old town hall and burned the records at the dump.”
Ray Newmann – June to September 1958. Newmann was the first Ocean Ridge police chief. Previously the town received law enforcement and protection from Boynton Beach.
Source: Ocean Ridge Town Hall, The History of Ocean Ridge, by Gail Adams Aaskov, and published reports.