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Officials optimistic on resolving Hollywood’s police shortage

posted Aug 8, 2012, 1:00 PM by Freddy Suastegui   [ updated Aug 8, 2012, 1:07 PM ]
While the force is down 38 officers, and departures are outpacing new hires, public safety is not being compromised, the chief said.

Despite hiring 16 officers this year, the Hollywood Police Department is still short 38 officers — with 20 of those positions frozen for the past two years — meaning it takes longer to solve crimes, the city’s top cop told commissioners Wednesday.

But he said 911 responses have not been affected.

Police Chief Chad Wagner told the City Commission that his department continues to hire, but the new officers have been more than offset by retirements and resignations.

The department, which is supposed to have 334 sworn officers, has 296. That means it is down about 11 percent. This year alone, 23 officers retired and eight resigned, Wagner said.

“I know there is a real sense of urgency amongst all of us,” he told commissioners. “I think what I want to do is relieve that sense of urgency for all of you.”

To date, the city has received 936 applications, which Wagner said is a good sign.

“We have applications coming in continuously,” he said.

Being down officers does not mean there are that many fewer officers on the street, said Wagner.

The patrol division is down only eight positions, while the criminal investigations division is down 17 and the special operations division is down 11.

The cuts in the investigative unit have made it more difficult to solve crimes quickly, he said, but responses to 911 calls have not changed.

“I know we are covered,” Wagner said.

Police union President Jeff Marano said after Wednesday’s commission meeting that making do with fewer officers means “both the officers and citizens are suffering.”

Marano said recent salary and pension cuts make Hollywood less attractive to new recruits. In September, voters approved by referendum an increase in the number of years an officer must work before collecting his or her pension. The referendum also changed the way retirement pay is calculated.

Officers’ starting salaries also were affected by the changes commissioners made to help close the city’s $38 million budget gap.

While Hollywood officers start at about $42,500 a year, in Fort Lauderdale the starting pay is about $54,800; in Pembroke Pines, $48,800; and Miramar, about $49,300.

“We are going to be scraping the bottom of the barrel,” Marano said.

Commissioners, however, said they were optimistic.

“We have done a lot of work in terms of hiring,” said Mayor Peter Bober. “But of course there is always more we can do.”

In other business Wednesday, commissioners unanimously agreed to give the Margaritaville Beach Resort’s developer more time to build the beachfront complex, and they set the city’s tentative property tax rate at the same level as last year’s: $7.45 per $1,000 of taxable assessed property value. They kept the fire assessment fee at $189.

Even though the tax rate is unchanged, many property owners will pay more in taxes because of increases in their assessments.

Two public hearings, at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 12 and Sept. 20, have been scheduled for comment on the proposed $176 million general fund budget.

As for Margaritaville, the commission postponed finding the developer in default for missing key construction and financing deadlines. The developers recently learned that Broward County wanted them to go through a process to remap the land, which could take six months. The developers also needed more time to secure the more than $130 million needed to build the complex after a plan to get foreign investment failed.

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