OCEAN CITY – Recent warm weather in the region has tempted many locals and visitors alike from their winter hiding spots to take to the streets of Ocean City to begin preparations for the coming season. However, not everyone had the chance to recess during the cold weather as the Ocean City Police Department and Beach Patrol have been preparing for the coming summer since the end of last season.
According to Barry Neeb, community services coordinator for the OCPD, the police department begins looking for new recruits for its seasonal staff for the following summer in September and October. During this intense recruiting phase, officers will hit colleges in the region that specialize in criminal justice programs and talk with professors, advisors and department heads to determine who the most hopeful of applicants are.
“We’re not looking for large numbers we are looking for quality,” he said. “It’s a tough field for hiring temporary workers since it is such an unpredictable job and difficult to learn, that’s why we have to start with the best and the brightest.”
These institutions include schools from Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania such as Penn State University, York College, West Chester University, Salisbury State University and Frostburg State University.
From January to March, recruits are then tested to determine their knowledge of law enforcement. If they pass that part they head on to the last phase, the training phase that takes place from April to May, which is where this season’s recruits are now.
“July and August are pretty much the only months we are not working on our seasonal program,” Neeb said about the entire process. “Come Labor Day we are back at it again.”
According to Neeb, seasonal officers will take part in a scaled down version of the training process, 196 total academy hours, which will still allow them to be able to function and do their job professionally since a six-month training stint wouldn’t be practical. After that they will spend a minimum of two weeks with a field-training officer to make sure they can apply what they learned in real-life situations.
“Since they are temporary and only work through to September, we don’t spend time teaching them how to investigate a homicide,” Neeb said. “However, we do train them for what to do if they are the first to a crime scene such as securing it and gathering witnesses. So the education itself continues all summer long, not just in the academy.”
By early May, the first class of seasonal officers will be ready with the second finishing up mid-May. By the end of the month, all of them will be on the roads.
As of now, the department has all the recruits it will need for the season and with approximately 200,000-300,000 people visiting Ocean City every summer, Neeb said the department’s 107 full-time officers and 110-115 seasonal officers constantly stay busy.
However, the hardest thing for new recruits is that they may not be completely familiar with the area, Neeb said. He also mentioned they may hesitate to act under certain circumstances whereas fulltime officers know what to do immediately. However, he did say they will catch on quick, especially with the types of things they will be dealing with over the season.
“The bottom line is that it comes down to learning how to deal with people and that’s a skill that’s hard to teach,” Neeb added. “It’s that kind of personality we try to recruit. You can’t put a price tag on experience.”
Keeping the public safe during the season not only means patrolling the streets, but patrolling the beaches as well and that is where the Ocean City Beach Patrol steps in.
According to Butch Arbin, captain of the OCBP, thee season officially begins on Memorial Day weekend but preparations begin well in advance. In August and September, potential recruits for the following summer begin training and testing. Once summer ends, the OCBP begins the process of evaluating its 200 employees between the months of October and November to see who will be coming back for the following year. Once this is completed, Arbin said they then have an idea of how many positions they will need to fill for the coming year and hit the road once again in search of the best candidates.
As of Thursday, Arbin said the OCBP was exactly where he predicted it would be. Since the season starts off a little slow, usually due to schools still being in session and the water being too cold, Arbin added that not all the guards will be out on the beaches until the Fourth of July weekend when their total strength will be approximately 200 guards.
Those guards consist of folks looking to work both full-time and part-time and range from police officers to lawyers, said Arbin, and training and re-certification of those individuals will continue right up to that week. Once the rookies finish their final training in June, it gives the veterans time to take refresher courses and brush up on some of their skills.
However, Arbin said the guards only operate at their best when the public cooperates and stresses they talk with guards when they are on duty to learn about the various dangers on any given day. But that is just rule No. 2, he said, and it can only be followed after rule No. 1.
“Keep your feet in the sand until a lifeguard is on the stand,” he said.