By Chelsea Todaro The Palm Beach Post
BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — A few months ago, four juveniles broke into 11 Boynton Beach patrol cars at the city police station.
The suspects — three males and a female who later were apprehended — stole ammunition and police gear, according to a city police report.
The break-in was a concern to Boynton police, but how the four got into the cars was even more alarming because there was no signs of forced entry.
“It’s scary that they could have access to that many vehicles with the amount of material and ammunition in there,” former Boynton Beach City Commissioner Joe Casello said.
Eventually, the mystery was solved but it opened another potentially troublesome situation.
A patrol car key, taken in the same early morning hours of Aug. 31 from the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department, was used to unlock and burglarize the Boynton police cars, Boynton Beach police reported.
Neither Boynton nor Gardens departments were aware that their police car keys were interchangeable.
What a Palm Beach Gardens police report shows is that on the same night as the Boynton break-ins, a Gardens police car window was shattered on the 2800 block of Grande Parkway, near San Matera condominiums. Other residential cars also were broken into and ultimately, about $600 worth of undisclosed items were stolen from the police car.
Immediately after the break-ins, investigators believed the suspects were in possession of a police fleet or “universal police car” key, Boynton police said. Spokeswoman Stephanie Slater said the break-ins were connected to another police car burglary in Palm Beach Gardens, but did not specify how the juveniles obtained a Gardens’ police key.
Palm Beach Gardens police spokesman Maj. Paul Rogers said the Gardens police fleet key was recovered but would not offer details. He said the department has taken the necessary steps to address the issue.
“The information about our keys and equipment is a big security risk,” Rogers said.
Slater, who said all the stolen police items were recovered, expressed the same concern for the Boynton department.
Paul Wuest, a spokesman for Ford fleet vehicles in Delray Beach, said he’s never heard of an incident like this. Neither have officials from Jupiter, West Palm Beach and Delray Beach police departments. Each claim their departments do not have a “universal key” to unlock vehicles.
“It really boils down to whatever security measures (the departments) have in place or if it was a smart key,” Jupiter Police spokesman O’Neil Anderson said. “I don’t see universal keys often with police vehicles, they are mostly for high-end ones.”
Anderson said most police cars come off an assembly line and are turned into patrol cars through specialized orders. But there is no special key system made for them.
“It really is just a regular car,” Anderson said. “My Dodge Charger is the same as someone else’s until they specialize it.”
West Palm Beach Sgt. David LeFont said his department stopped making universal keys “many, many years ago.”
“We have too many models to have a universal key,” LeFont said. “We couldn’t do it even if we wanted to.”
Police cars for Delray Beach each have spare keys kept in a secure location “that require supervisor-approval to access,” said Delray Beach police spokeswoman Dani Moschella.
Jupiter police does the same thing but with secure key boxes, Anderson said.
A majority of police cars also have lock boxes in the trunk that will hold any type of police gear, ammunition and firearms, said John Kazanjian, president of the Florida Police Benevolent Association.
“(Police gear) has to be secured in that box,” Kazanjian said. “Most officers usually take firearms inside when they are done with their shift.”
According to the Boynton Beach police report, the juveniles were seen on a surveillance camera and later apprehended. Two were from Boynton Beach.
Since the August incident, former Commissioner Casello, who has moved on to a state House seat, said he’s concerned about police vehicle security.
“As of today we still don’t know where that key came from or who acquired it,” Casello said. “How can a key have access to that many vehicles with the amount of material and ammunition in there?”
It is not the first time police items have been stolen from cars in recent months.
In October, two Palm Beach County sheriff deputies were disciplined after guns were stolen from their vehicles. One deputy had an assault rifle stolen from an unlocked, unmarked patrol car and the other had a loaded handgun stolen from a personal car. The deputy who had the assault rifle stolen received a written reprimand, with the other was ordered to take remedial training.
Casello said he “hopes steps are taken in the future” to prevent another patrol car break-in.
“There is a lesson to be learned,” he said.