Chief’s Crime Report Renews Political Debate Over Resort Safety; Ashley, Pillas Push Their Concerns Over Negative Changes

Chief’s Crime Report Renews Political Debate Over Resort Safety; Ashley, Pillas Push Their Concerns Over Negative Changes
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OCEAN CITY – It wouldn’t be a normal week at City Hall without the Mayor and Council engaging in a spirited debate over the correlation between crime statistics and population estimations.

On Monday evening, Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Chief Ross Buzzuro was invited to come before the full Mayor and Council to present decreasing percentages in crime statistics compared to prior years.

The number of crime-related incidents on the Boardwalk in the month of July this year has not been released but comparing the month of June there were 212 incidents in 2010, 248 incidents in 2011, 193 incidents in 2012 and 213 incidents in 2013. The count for each year includes incidents of burglaries, theft, drug violations, disorderly conduct, vandalism, aggravated assault, simple assault, sex offense, weapon violations, robbery, and liquor law violations.

“The analysis showed most of these incidents is on a downward trend,” Buzzuro said.

Councilman Brent Ashley has argued the ongoing decrease in crime felt this summer should be associated with the decrease in Ocean City’s population during the summer.

“I have said this before, if we have less population we are going to have less crime … I think a comparison with population would be helpful as well with crime statistics,” he said.

Ashley added the categories of crime analyzed do not include incidents of harassment or intimidation, although those are immeasurable occurrences on the Boardwalk. Ashley has gone public with his concerns about the Boardwalk on multiple occasions this summer.

“A lot of things go unreported. I have seen harassment on the Boardwalk and people just walk away, they don’t report anything, so I don’t think hard crime statistics really tell the whole story,” he said.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas agreed with Ashley but is looking forward to a positive change in the future as she referred to the plan of action Mayor Rick Meehan announced a few weeks ago that will address an unusual outburst of high-profile crimes that took place in June and July in Ocean City, including a bank robbery, a beach brawl and a Boardwalk gang-related stabbing as well as a tragic hit-and run involving a child, a double shooting and several off-Boardwalk stabbings.

According to the mayor, Buzzuro and the OCPD are crafting a plan involving an increase in intelligence, surveillance and technology throughout town, including installation of more cameras on the Boardwalk.

Nonetheless, Pillas, who lives on a bayside street downtown, pressed her belief the resort has changed for the negative.

“I have lived here a long time and I don’t need numbers to tell me I am not comfortable living downtown as I have been in the past … we have all lived here a long time and things have changed,” Pillas said.

Ashley said in the 40 years he has lived here this is the first summer he is afraid to go to the Boardwalk.

“I see changes living downtown. I live them. If you want to see how things are, walk from 17th Street to the Inlet at 2 o’clock in the morning. It would open your eyes,” he said.

Council President Lloyd Martin pointed out despite a lower estimation of population in Ocean City, crime stats for the town as a whole reflected citizen initiated calls for service to OCPD decreased by 8.1 percent in July.

“We have a good safe town and these numbers show it … and I think we need to push forward,” Martin said.

Council Secretary Mary Knight conducted research gathering crime statistics from cities across the country with a population of about 250,000, the same as Ocean City in the summer time, and found Ocean City’s crime was still much lower than other jurisdictions.

“We should be proud of this and not be questioning how many people were in town,” she said.

Meehan acknowledged Buzzuro and the action the OCPD is undertaking in addressing the incidents that have occurred in town this summer and cast Ocean City in a negative light on several occasions.

“There was crime in some isolated incidents and what happened is they became big news because they are not typical of what happens in Ocean City,” the mayor said. “I also looked at the crime stats of other beach resorts and our numbers are far lower than theirs are. We are moving in the right direction.”

Meehan also lives in the downtown area and said he is not and never will be afraid to visit the Boardwalk.

“Different hours in any community are going to bring out different people. We always have to be aware of our whereabouts no matter where we go,” he said. “We need to be cognizant and out front to prevent crime from happening, and I think we have learned some lessons this year to make sure we are even more on point in the future then in the past.”

During last week’s Police Commission meeting, it was reported July’s total calls for service, including traffic stops, business checks and assistance to citizens, were 15,128, which is a 3.1-percent decrease from July 2012 when there were 15,620 calls for service.
Out of the total number of calls for service 11,256 were officer initiated, which is a 1.3-percent decrease from July 2012, and 3,872 were citizen initiated, which is an 8.1-percent decrease from July 2012.

The total number of call for service, excluding traffic stops, business checks and assisting citizens, totaled 10,157, which is a 4.1-percent decrease from July 2012.

There were 473 arrests made in July and 207 criminal citations issued. There were 94 drug arrests made and 136 drug citations. There were 55 DUI arrests made and 23 weapon arrests, according to OCPD data.
The July monthly average population in Ocean City, according to demoflush, was 305,112 with the first weekend in July (holiday) down 2.3 percent from the previous year, and subsequent weekends down 1.5 percent from 2012, up 1.7 percent from 2012 and down 4.2 percent from 2012, respectively.