The Palm Beach Post | By Giuseppe Sabella | April 21, 2022
The school board has approved a new chief for the district police force, the department’s fourth leader in about a year.
Sarah Mooney, former head of the West Palm Beach Police Department, where she climbed from police officer to chief over more than two decades, will start as the newest leader of school police on May 4.
“I do not take the responsibility lightly,” Mooney said in a prepared statement. “As a native of Palm Beach County, I have a vested interest in providing the highest level of service to our School District.”
Along with ensuring the safety of more than 200,000 students and district employees, Mooney will face challenges born out of turnover and vacancies within the school police force.
The department had just under 250 officers as of late February, making it one of the largest police forces in Palm Beach County, but it still had a shortfall of nearly 70 officers.
The district has temporarily filled those gaps with officers from six police departments throughout the county, Superintendent Mike Burke recently said. The school board also approved an agreement on March 23 to access the help of nearly two dozen Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies from Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.
Pointing to understaffing and low morale, some community leaders, including school board member Karen Brill and John Kazanjian, president of the Police Benevolent Association, have joined calls for the sheriff’s office take over the school police department.
Mooney, who is no stranger to the challenges that come with running a large police force, will head the department in just two weeks, taking the place of interim Chief Patrick McCutcheon. He took the reins in January, after two previous chiefs – Daniel Alexander and Frank Kitzerow – resigned over a nine-month period.
The incoming chief started as an officer with the West Palm Beach Police Department in 1995 and progressed to a sergeant, lieutenant, captain, assistant chief and then chief of police in February 2017.
She also worked as a police academy instructor at Palm Beach State College, according to her resume, which lists recruitment, hiring and community engagement among her skills.
Mooney’s time as chief of the city police department came to an end in 2019. Crime was down 16% — largely thanks to a sharp decline in burglaries, larcenies and car thefts – but violent crimes had jumped by 13% the year prior, and shortly after becoming mayor, Keith James questioned the chief.
The mayor then demoted Mooney to the assistant chief in charge of emergency management and replaced her with Frank Adderley, someone who knew the mayor for several years.
At that time, former Mayor Jeri Muoio said “neighborhood leaders are just appalled by this and they’re very disappointed” by the choice to demote Mooney.
“The rank and file have great respect for her,” Muoio said in a 2019 interview. “She’s an excellent leader. Neighborhoods have great respect for her. They know she understands our city. They know she worked very hard for us 20-something years.”