PEMBROKE PINES (CBSMiami) – It was a strange sight for shoppers and diners at the Shops at Pembroke Gardens on Friday evening — a sign informing them that the Pembroke Pines Police Department is understaffed and customers are shopping and dining at their own risk.
Jeff Marano is president of the Broward County Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents police officers in Pembroke Pines.
Contract negotiations have been going on between the police union and the city for months.
Marano put up the sign, he said, in hopes of sending a clear message.
"It was meant to shock the public and let the public know that Pembroke Pines, the city of, continues to play this shell game with people and telling everybody that it's OK and the police are happy and that's not true," Marano said.
Marano says the police department has at least 20 openings in a department of about 240 and needs more officers on the streets. He says Pines offers one of the lowest starting salaries for officers in Broward County.
"The overwhelming consensus we're getting from people in personnel, is that they can't hire people because of the low pay," Marano said.
Marano believes it's disingenuous for the city to cry poor when they recently opened a multi-million dollar city hall complex.
"We had negotiations there," he explained. "You walk into a $50 million dollar building and they tell you they're broke. It just doesn't add up."
Pembroke Pines Vice-Mayor Angelo Castillo is pushing back on the sign's message.
"Beyond any contract negotiations, wherever you go in Pembroke Pines, you're going to be safe," Castillo said. "We have more police officers on the street today than we did last and we had more last year than the year before and crime is down this year about 1%."
Castillo said the city's police chief told him that the force is well staffed and that residents have nothing to fear.
Castillo said he cannot comment directly on the contract negotiations which he admits have dragged on longer than normal.
However, he said he hopes there's a positive outcome for everyone involved.
"We're gonna find a good deal for police and fire and for the taxpayer in Pembroke Pines," he said.
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