The Broward Sheriff's Office is starting to look more and more like old Fort Apache. Out near BSO headquarters on Broward Boulevard, you can hear the arrows whistling through the air and the war whoops of Sheriff Ken Jenne's critics. They're shouting about that $20,000 personal loan from a guy who does business with BSO and about that big fiasco regarding hyped crime statistics that BSO brass is dropping on the heads of a few departmental underlings. They're screaming that Jenne should turn his badge in.
Tailpipe stumbled innocently enough into this chaotic scene the other day when he decided to ask about "honorary badges." You know, those little gold stars that some citizens are awarded for being, uh, friends of the sheriff. How cool it would be, the 'Pipe thought, to have one of those babies on his dashboard when a cop pulls him over for some minor infraction, like cutting an amber traffic signal too close. This battered auto part even shook hands once with Jenne at a shopping mall. That should qualify the 'Pipe as friend, shouldn't it?
But he was met with stony-eyed reticence by the boys at BSO. Badges? We don't know about no stinkin' badges.
For the record, yes, Jenne has issued some "honorary Sheriff stars" over the past eight years. But don't ask who got them. There are no records of recipients.
"No one will be able to give you a reliable list of everyone who has gotten these things," said Eliot Cohen, spokesman for the BSO. "It's not something that we keep a file on. It's at the sheriff's discretion."
The curious 'Pipe found that to be a real head-scratcher, given that other law enforcement departments, like the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office, keep meticulous records of these things.
Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw sometimes gives out stars emblazoned with the words "Honorary Deputy." It comes with a wallet-sized ID card, presumably intended for quick-access storage in a wallet. To make it easier to flash at a traffic stop, perhaps? Or maybe just to get a discount at local restaurants? No way, the cops say.
In the past 18 months, those badges and ID cards were issued to 24 honorary deputies, community members such as financial services magnate and polo enthusiast Neil Hirsch and the late groundskeeper for the City of North Palm Beach Charles S. Traxler, to name a couple.
Law enforcement agencies deny up and down that the badges serve as any kind of get-out-of-jail-free ticket. Says Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Jorge Delahoz, not even a legitimate deputy or police officer's badge will deter FHP's determined troopers. "We ticket lots of cops," he says.
But who knows what sort of considerations flit through an officer's mind as he approaches a vehicle whose driver has just committed a traffic infraction? Was the infraction marginal enough to elicit just a warning for a pal of Sheriff Jenne's but maybe serious enough to warrant an actual ticket for some hapless plumber's assistant in a battered pickup truck? Those are the kinds of decisions that police chiefs don't like to talk about.
For its part, PBSO won't comment on the specific deeds performed by these citizens to earn an honorary badge. It's all about people who do things that "support the mission of the sheriff's office," says Paul Miller, a PBSO spokesman. "This is purely ceremonial and transfers no special status to these citizens."
Honorary deputies whom Tailpipe spoke to say they resist the temptation to use their gleaming prizes for personal gain.
J.D. Parker received his badge for being on the board of directors of the Palm Beach Law Enforcement Assistance Foundation (LEAF), an organization of 35 Palm Beach businessmen that gives grants to officers injured in the line of duty and raises money with golf tournaments at Donald Trump's course.
"It's in my office, with the plaque that came with it," says Parker. "It says I'm the honorary Sheriff's deputy." Parker says he keeps both the badge and the ID on display, far from anyplace where he could flash them to gain special treatment.
"I think that there's a very clear understanding that they're not supposed to flash these things around," says Joan Williams, marketing director for the firm of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, three of whose members got badges for contributing to kids' programs.
Nevertheless, honorary badges crop up from time to time as evidence of cronyism, as when disgraced Boca Raton Police Chief Andrew Scott, who left office last year after he was accused of using his office to benefit wealthy and influential friends, was found to have handed out 125 honorary badges.
Tailpipe would love to know if developer Philip Procacci, who allegedly loaned Jenne's secretary Marian Yoka the $20,000 that eventually ended up in Jenne's bank account, got a badge. But, of course, the closed-mouthed BSO guys couldn't say.
End of the World
First there's a shot of a helicopter with a spotlight, then of young, helpless men trying to console a girl who lies writhing on a sidewalk. Police cruisers sprint past on the street.
"Jesus, man," a male voice says. "What the fuck, is this just a random shooting?"
"I think he just shot into the crowd," another man says.
"Whyyyyy," comes the anguished cry from the girl on the ground. "Why did they do this to me?"
"I don't know," says a young woman crouching over her. "But do not leave. Just calm down."
It's either edgy guerilla filmmaking or a step back for civilization, depending on your view, but this scene, shot in West Palm Beach, is one of many now available on DVD through such outlets as Best Buy and FYE.
New Times wrote about this compilation of street violence, bare-knuckle boxing, rock concert beatings and general after-dark mayhem last year ("Smile for the Devil," Oct. 6, 2005). Since then, the filmmakers have signed a distribution deal with California-based Fall Thru Entertainment purveyor of such high art as the "Ghetto Fights" series. "There's a bigger demand for this genre of product than for any other we've put out," Fall Thru president Ryan Michael says. "Generally speaking, if it's related to violence, people tend to latch onto it." The filmmakers have also become a big enough target that their principals have appeared for a tongue-lashing on Fox News' Hannity and Colmes.
The title of the new disc, Hardcore: Raw & Uncut, is a misnomer; in the interest of mass-marketability, much of the T&A has been excised from the original video. But it's pretty much the same scenes, compiled mostly from nights out in Palm Beach County, that cameraman "Doorag" Dennis had been trying to hawk on a much smaller scale. "I get a very small percentage of each one," he says of the current deal, "but it's good enough."
This is the real deal, Doorag says. "I tell people, 'Don't fight for the camera. Do what you would normally do. Ignore me,'" he adds. "If I wanted to, I could get some awesome footage by paying these kids, but I'm not going to pay anybody."
His contract has him on the hook for two more videos. The second, he says, is in production, made up of "all 'hood stuff," including footage of assault-weapon firefights in the rougher areas of West Palm Beach.
The world is coming to an end, and its demise will be recorded on high-definition, marketable digital video.
The Other Shoe
It's gonna be Vegas in Dania Beach, all right. Dania Jai-Alai's parent company, Aragon Group, sold out to casino heavyweight Boyd Gaming Corp. for the handsome sum of $152.5 million, and the glitz is on the way.
Why would a multibillion-dollar public company want a piece of a fading, exotic sport?
Stupid question. "The obvious reason," Rob Stillwell, a Boyd vice president, tells the 'Pipe, "is the Dania Jai-Alai facility is one of the four properties under Florida law that will be allowed to have 1,500 Class III slot machines."
Trouble is, Tailpipe has this quixotic attachment to the ancient Basque sport, in which nimble frontoneros catch a smoking missile in a curved basket and heave it at death-defying speeds against a wall.
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Jai-alai rehabilitation will take a back seat to the other plans for the 47-acre site: shops, entertainment, lounges and restaurants, the first of which should open in 2008, if all goes to plan. The safeguard for the sport is that state regulations require a minimum of 150 jai-alai performances for the facility to run slots. That number would be only about a third of the current bill, though, and Boyd made no assurances that the games wouldn't be cut back or that development on the site wouldn't wipe out a season of performances in the meantime.
"I think we're going to let the business volume determine that, but we'll be looking at jai-alai from a historical perspective as well as a future perspective," Stillwell predicts. "It's safe to assume there's going to be some significant changes."
Riki Lasa, President of the International Jai-Alai Players Association, sees the writing on the wall.
"Jai-alai is just a way to make these places into casinos," he says. "They're not interested in jai-alai. As soon as the state of Florida gets a taste of the money coming in, the players will be out of a job, plain and simple." As told to Edmund Newton