A packed house of police officers and their families flooded a Jupiter Town Council meeting Thursday night, alleging low pay, lack of support for training, and continued attrition in the police department.
"It feels like a pressure cooker," said police officer Carla Irons in an interview with CBS 12 News, describing how she calls her mom before every short-staffed shift out of concerns for her safety. "You worry about the people that you serve and you worry about your colleagues."
"Our fitness for duty is not something that could be taken lightly," said police officer Trisha Heuser at the meeting. "The phrase 'our officers do more with less' has been uttered too many times here."
A sea of blue shirts - emblazoned with the slogan "Support Your Jupiter Police Officers" - gathered in the audience of Thursday's meeting. Among them were police officers and their families voicing extreme displeasure with the town.
"We have vacancies in the town for employees that are not being filled... makes no sense. None at all," said one man, not a police officer, during public comment at the meeting. "Quit defunding our police. We need them."
"There is a union and a contract and we are going to make sure that we fund that contract," said Mayor Todd Wodraska in response, assuring the audience that the city will meet its financial obligations. "By no means is any action that the Town of Jupiter is taking is defunding police, water, Parks and Rec. Nothing could be further from the truth."
The mayor told the packed room the town is funding a number of vacancies, but gives managers the ability to not fill those vacancies and disperse the money elsewhere.
"If we're funding positions we should start looking at filling them," said Councilman Cameron May, during a discussion about the town's budget.
Meanwhile, the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association, the union representing Jupiter police officers, is calling for the resignation of Town Manager Matt Benoit, accusing him of attempting to "defund the police."
The union claims the town refuses to fill several vacant positions on the force, is incorrectly paying overtime, and refusing to let officers attend training on their days off to avoid having to pay them overtime.
"The members, I've never seen them that furious," PBA President John Kazanjian told CBS12 News, recounting a meeting with a number of Jupiter officers. ""You can't be nickel and diming training...training is a necessity for police work."
A group of officers have also filed a lawsuit against the town, alleging missed overtime pay.
"A total of 24 vacant positions currently exist Town-wide and are budgeted for in the FY22. This was discussed during the June 24, 2021 Town Council Budget Workshop," said a city spokesperson in a statement.
That spokesperson also said the town could not comment on staff pay due to pending litigation.