By Rich Pollack
Ocean Ridge police say they have every intention of patrolling county parks within the town limits, but they’re hoping the county will lend a hand to help those parks — as well as an adjacent one in a county pocket — be safer during holidays and special events.
Ocean Ridge Police Chief Hal Hutchins met recently with Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Director Eric Call to discuss the possibility of the county’s providing additional security at two parks — Ocean Inlet Park and Ocean Ridge Hammock Park — during high-volume times.
“It’s not that we’re going to stop patrolling the parks within Ocean Ridge,” Hutchins said. “We merely want to ask the county to enter into a dialogue to determine if there’s a better way to provide security during high-volume times.”
Ocean Ridge police routinely patrol Ocean Inlet Park, south of the Boynton Inlet, and also keep an eye on a recreational area for fishermen — immediately south of the inlet but north of town limits — that falls under the jurisdiction of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
Hutchins’ department also patrols Ocean Ridge Hammock Park, an 8.5-acre beachfront park that includes a small parking lot.
“During certain periods of time there is a high increase in the usage of those parks,” Hutchins said. “It’s during those times that patrolling the parks takes away from our ability to patrol other areas of town.”
Hutchins drew an analogy to a stadium or arena routinely patrolled by local police when no out-of-the-ordinary activity takes place but which requires additional security provided by the venue during games or special events.
“We’re asking the county to please consider the safety and security of the people in the parks and the people who live in surrounding areas,” he said.
Hutchins’ initial inquiry, in an Aug. 31 email to Call, came after the chief learned the county had contracted with the Sheriff’s Office to patrol three parks in Riviera Beach during holidays, following that city’s decision to no longer patrol those parks.
Policing of county parks had been the responsibility of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office until 2010, when the department’s parks unit was disbanded because of budget cuts. Since then, responsibility for patrolling the parks has fallen on the shoulders of local police departments.
Hutchins said the Sheriff’s Office works well with his department and provides some added patrol on selected holidays.
He said that his department will continue to patrol the parks within its jurisdiction, regardless of the outcome of discussions with the county.
“Even if they provide additional security, it’s not going to change what we do now,” Hutchins said.