OCEAN CITY – During Monday’s Police Commission meeting, the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) reported its proposed budget for the next fiscal year reduces spending from the current fiscal plan.
According to Captain Michael Colbert, OCPD recently submitted a proposed budget to the Mayor and City Council with budget hearings beginning this week. According to the city’s budget schedule, the OCPD is scheduled to review the budget with the Mayor and Council on April 16 at 1 p.m.
“We submitted it under what we submitted last year,” Colbert said. “That included at the time the raises that we were expecting through the bargaining unit … we were still able to stay under last year’s budget upon submission.”
One of the major expenses included in the proposed budget is the request for additional Public Safety Aids (PSAs), which are non-sworn officers that under-21 years of age that provide police related support, such as working at the Public Safety Buildings front desk or parking enforcement.
At first, 12 additional PSAs were requested for 17 weeks but that number was worked back to 10 for 14 weeks.
“We are going to experience some difficulties this year, particularly in the southern district because we have to supply an original signature on a statement of charges, so it’s a change,” Captain Kevin Kirstein said.
Kirstein explained in the past officers have been able to conduct operations remotely where they would be able to fill out a statement of charges from the southern district station and email it to the front desk at the Public Safety Building where it would be printed with the officer’s electronic signature.
The District Court system has changed the process where now an officer will have to print the statement of charges, physically sign it and have the document transported to the Public Safety Building.
“What we will do is take the PSAs that we have and we will assign them to an actual patrol shift where they will be able to assist with minor paper work … or be couriers, particularly with statement of charges,” Colbert said.
Colbert recognized a change in state law that reduces the number of statement of charges being produced, and police departments have been directed to release offenders with a citation in certain circumstances.
“What will happen is we will make an arrest and rather than physically driving them to the station, holding them there … we are allowed now and expected to issue a criminal citation and release them on the scene,” Kirstein said.
The other major expense associated with the proposed budget is the request for 14 additional Tasers. Last week the OCPD was granted approval to purchase eight additional Tasers to outfit eight current officers with Electronic Control Device (ECD) certifications that do not have the equipment available to them. The 14 additional will equip other officers who are in the process of being trained.
“This is the next phase in the Taser program and we re-evaluate each time to determine where we go from there,” Kirstein said. “We still have a ways to go, it does not include the new hires and we have a lot of new hires out there now.”
Colbert was pleased with the way the budget process went with City Manager David Recor and Budget Manager Jennie Knapp. However, even though the department’s request came in under last year, a proposed capital improvement project of a new roof at the Public Safety Building in the amount of $631,000 pushed the proposed budget above last year’s line by $3,000.
Councilman Dennis Dare questions the captains how a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) currently being developed between the Town of Ocean City and Worcester County regarding the liability and financial responsibility of prisoners, mainly when it comes to medical issues, is going to financial impact the department’s budget.
“My understanding is this is being driven by the warden at the jail to try to limit their liability … particularly for non-Worcester County warrants,” explained Colbert, adding the department is not anticipating any huge hits on the budget because of it.
Colbert furthered OCPD summer staffing is budgeted for over 105 seasonal officers.
“We are going to be able to hit that number with no problem, and we are actually holding some people back that would otherwise qualify,” he said.
Kirstein added the recruitment process has been strong this year as the department has tested over 700 applicants. The OCPD expects to remain aggressive in recruitment as many other agencies are lifting hiring freezes.
“It has worked out well for us this year,” he said.