Yes, the overall crime rate is up in Wellington. But there’s good reason to look on the bright side.
That was the message from Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office District 8 Capt. Nichole Addazio, who made her first presentation to Wellington’s council at Tuesday night’s meeting.
The number of crimes in some categories continued to rise throughout Palm Beach County last year, after those numbers plummeted in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of those numbers had risen exponentially from 2020 to 2021 as people went back to their daily routines, officials have said.
The good news for Wellington, officials said Tuesday night, is that although the numbers have gone up again for some crimes, many remain below pre-pandemic levels — with a few exceptions, including shoplifting.
“We’ve improved, and we’ve held onto the improvement,” Councilman Michael Drahos said.
In the annual report on crime in Wellington, Addazio’s team noted that violent crimes are up about 13% and property crimes are up about 9%, numbers that are determined by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and based on that agency’s review of data from crimes across many categories.
Some key numbers
According to the FDLE data presented by Addazio:
- There were no homicides in Wellington last year, for the second year in a row.
- The number of reported sexual assaults remained the same as the year before: 21 in 2021, and 21 in 2022.
- The number of shootings also remained the same: three in 2021, and three in 2022.
- The number of robberies in Wellington fell from nine in 2021 to four last year.
- The number of aggravated assaults rose from 41 in 2021 to 58 last year, largely driving the increase in that percentage.
Driving the increase in the percentage of property offenses: shoplifting incidents, Addazio said.
Shoplifting is classified as larceny by the FDLE, Addazio said. That category saw a 10% increase in Wellington for last year over the year before, her report showed. In 2021, there were 198 incidents of shoplifting. Last year, there were 237, she said. Calls for service regarding shoplifting rose by nearly 20% from 2021 to 2022, her report showed.
There are a few reasons for the increase in shoplifting incidents, Addazio said. First, she pointed to people using surgical masks to conceal their identities, making it more difficult for detectives to track them down.
There also can be a delay in reporting by store owners and managers, who may not realize something has been stolen until they check their inventory. In addition, there have been recent changes to Florida’s criminal justice system that make it more difficult to prosecute some offenders, Addazio said.
“Criminals know this, and they’re taking advantage of it,” she said.
Further complicating things, PBSO investigators have found that some retailers refuse to prosecute shoplifters, Addazio said. She recently sent a deputy to meet with each retailer in the Mall at Wellington Green to discuss shoplifting. “Almost 10 (businesses) are still refusing to prosecute,” Addazio said.
Much of that is a holdover from the COVID-19 pandemic, when backlogs caused by trial delays led to a slow-moving criminal justice system, she said .
“Some of these department stores and businesses would rather take the loss,” Addazio said.
Overall, the message to retailers is this, she said: “We’re getting back to pre-pandemic numbers, and we would like their support.”
The percentage of all cases cleared by arrest in Wellington was 19% in 2022, higher than the national average of 14%, Addazio said.
Wellington’s deputies have been able to make more arrests in part because of the village’s license plate readers, she said. The cameras scan license plates of vehicles coming into and leaving Wellington and are stationed on poles at key points around the village.
“What an investment,” Addazio said. “We have success story after success story.”
She included a few of those success stories in her report. In one case, the license plate readers alerted officials to that a black Hyundai that was reported stolen in Palm Springs had been scanned passing Quercus Court coming into Wellington on Forest Hill Boulevard. PBSO found the car at the Chevron gas station at Wellington Trace and Greenview Shores Boulevard. Deputies detained three people, and found a stun gun and a bag of jewelry, Addazio’s report said.
She pointed to a big win for the district’s traffic division, which saw a major jump in the number of citations written: from 2,633 in 2021 to 4,294 last year.
That’s thanks in large part to a $150,000 grant PBSO received to help with traffic enforcement in 2022 and 2023, she said.
One of PBSO’s goals in Wellington for 2022 was to make sure burglary and theft cases didn’t rise above 800 cases for the year. The total was 529, up 11% from 477 in 2021, but still below that 800 threshold, she said.
Another goal was to clear at least 10% of burglaries last year by arrest, which means someone was arrested for the crime. There were 150 burglaries last year, and 30% were cleared by arrest, she said.
The district traffic goals included having a crash rate of fewer than three crashes per 100 residents. While crashes increased slightly from 1,225 in 2021 to 1,231 last year, the rate per 100 residents was just below 2%, she said.
While Wellington has the third largest population of municipalities in Palm Beach County, it has lower crime rates per 100 residents, Addazio said.
According to her report, Wellington ranks below Delray Beach, Boca Raton, Greenacres and Jupiter in residential burglaries; below Delray Beach, Boca Raton, Jupiter, Palm Beach Gardens, Greenacres and Royal Palm Beach in vehicle burglaries; and below Delray Beach, Boca Raton, Greenacres, Jupiter, Palm Beach Gardens and Royal Palm Beach in robberies.
Wellington also ranks sixth in accidents and hit-and-runs, and shoplifting incidents.
“We have a mall and we have expansive shopping centers all over the village, so we are still looking really great at the bottom here,” Addazio said.
Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone asked about how PBSO will enforce the state’s recently passed law that says someone needs a driver’s license or permit to drive a golf cart.
“Is there a plan for your team to look closer at children operating golf carts, usually unsafely, and educating, enforcing?” Napoleone asked.
Wellington deputies will implement an initiative before that law goes into effect, Addazio said. She referred to a recent incident where a child was injured when a golf cart crashed.
“That was in front of my house,” said Mayor Anne Gerwig, who lives on Paddock Drive. Thankfully, she said, her neighbor is an emergency room doctor was able to help. “The enforcement is so hard,” Gerwig said.
Addazio, who recently assumed command of District 8 from retired Capt. Rolando Silva, said she and her lieutenant look forward to continuing to work with Wellington’s staff and council.
“It’s definitely a hometown type of culture and we really want to maintain this,” Addazio said.
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