Winter Crime Prevention Initiatives Offered
Shawn J. Soper
OCEAN CITY – In a town where the population often drops from 300,000 in the summer to just a few thousand hearty souls in the winter, there are thousands of vacant properties and scores of dark streets providing ample opportunities for would-be criminals, but there are several proactive programs in place to help prevent crime and protect property during the dead season in the resort.
The seasonal nature of Ocean City presents both countless opportunities for would-be criminals and unique challenges for its streamlined winter police force, but there are several programs available to allow private citizens to partner with local law enforcement during a decidedly quiet time in the resort area. With countless vacant properties long since shuttered and hundreds more vacated by local residents seeking warmer climes during the winter, the OCPD is encouraging citizens to take a proactive approach to crime prevention by taking advantage of the numerous programs being offered by the department.
One initiative is the OCPD’s Residential Security Check Program. Vacationing locals or property owners who utilize their Ocean City residences less frequently or not at all during the winter months are encouraged to register for the program that allows OCPD officers to track residential and commercial addresses that require special monitoring.
The program is free and is open to all residential and commercial property owners as well as renters. It requires only a simple application filed with the OCPD, which includes information about if and when the property should be vacant, what vehicles are likely to be observed in the driveway or one the street, what lights are on timers and who, if anybody, should be allowed or expected to utilize properties.
Officers patrolling the streets are equipped with computer information about the registered properties and can quickly access the information when something appears out of the ordinary. Perhaps more importantly, the officers are provided with contact information for the property owner in the event of emergency. Unfortunately, many property owners and renters in the resort either don’t know about the residential security check program or choose not to participate, according to OCPD spokesman Pfc. Mike Levy.
“That’s probably one of our most effective and most underutilized programs,” he said. “If you own property in Ocean City, or even rent property and live in Ocean City, we urge you take advantage of this. This is a great way to protect your own property and the property of your neighbors.”
Levy said OCPD officers know what to look for while patrolling the streets and can easily access the information from patrol car computers to determine if something is going on that shouldn’t be. He used the analogy of walking down the same path time after time and the suddenly seeing something or noticing something that wasn’t there before.
“It’s all about continuity, the continuity of a neighborhood and the continuity of a community,” he said. “Our officers out there on the streets know what properties are lived in and what properties are supposed to be vacant. As they are out on patrol, they observe when things are not as they are supposed to be and when something unusual or different is going on in a particular neighborhood or on a particular street.”
Another highly successful proactive crime prevention initiative in Ocean City is the Neighborhood Watch Program, which relies on private citizens to keep an eye on their streets and neighborhoods for suspicious activity and have been instrumental in reducing crime and keeping citizens informed of various public safety issues. There are currently eight neighborhood watch programs active throughout the resort.
Another OCPD crime prevention initiative allows residents and property owners to sign up for email alerts on press releases about specific crimes or crime trends in the resort. By simply signing up on the OCPD’s website, residents and property owners receive alerts and press releases by email about what is going on in Ocean City when they are not here.
“We want people to be aware of that and take advantage of that,” said Levy. “If they have a property in Ocean City but live somewhere else in the winter, they get email alerts when something is going on with a specific crime or a crime trend in the area. We would like every citizen to be aware of this and take advantage of it.”
In addition, OCPD officials are urging local residents who are leaving the area on vacation for an extended period of time not to broadcast their travel plans. With the proliferation of social networks, many residents are releasing when they are going away and for how long.
“We live in a digital age, but the basic rules haven’t changed,” said Levy. “Anything that you wouldn’t put on an answering machine, you shouldn’t put out on a social network. You would never say on your answering machine that you were going away for three weeks and won’t return until January, but that’s what people are doing on these social networks. Don’t publicize your travel plans. Save the stories and pictures until you get back.”