Lake Worth approves police merger with sheriff's office

By Lindsay Cohen email
Posted by Rachel Leigh email

LAKE WORTH, FL (WFLX) - Lake Worth city commissioners voted 3-2 Monday night to approve merging the city's police department with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, despite unanswered questions about how much a takeover would cost taxpayers.

Nearly 200 people turned out to weigh in on a possible sheriff's office takeover. Some wore green and yellow ribbons to show support for the measure; many argued that the city's crime rate was reason enough.

"[The police are] outgunned. They're out-manned. They struggle to deal with prostitution and drugs and gangs," said resident Lisa Maxwell. "And, it's a never-ending cycle."

"I think we can all change this with a vision, with goals, and with resources," added resident Peter Just. "So, please, give us the resources."

Tapping into the sheriff's office resources would mean increasing the police budget by as much as 7 percent each year over the next three years, said Mayor Jeff Clemens. To shoulder the burden, the city may have to raise millage rates, but the trade-off could mean as many as a dozen more officers on city streets, Clemens said.

"There are a lot of things to consider. It is actually going to have a financial impact, and in the next few years it's going to cost us more to go with the sheriff's office rather than saving us money," said the mayor, who voted to approve the merger. "[But] it's going to impact our crime-fighting and the way we deal with crime in this city for a long time."

Still some, like Commissioner Cara Jennings, raised doubts about whether the added financial burden would mean better policing of city streets.

"I'm baffled," Jennings said.

"It's going to cost us about a million dollars more per year for the next three years," added resident Laurence McNamara. "With a million dollars we could easily put seven more police officers per year on the street with new cars and new equipment and be able to pay their pension liabilities."

Commissioners are expected to hold a special meeting in two weeks to examine and approve a contract with the sheriff's office.

The City of Lake Worth currently has 91 sworn police officers.