OCEAN CITY — After a continued dramatic decline in the number of incidents on the resort’s municipal buses, Ocean City officials this month endorsed a continuation of the successful “spot the cop” program.
On Tuesday, the Ocean City Transportation Committee got an update on the successes of last year’s “spot the cop” program. For the last few years, the Ocean City Police Department has put both uniformed and plainclothes officers on the municipal buses, particularly in the height of the June Bug season, in an effort to deter crime and provide protection and support for the drivers.
“The summer gets a little unruly sometimes,” said Acting Superintendent of Transportation Wayne Pryor. “It’s very beneficial to have uniformed officers on the buses.”
OCPD Captain Kevin Kirstein explained the department has deployed officers on the municipal buses for a few years, but the program was expanded following a violent attack on a driver in June 2014. The program includes deploying 10 officers on municipal buses on weekend nights from roughly 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.
“When we do our deployment each year, this is part of the plan,” he said. “There was a serious assault on a driver in 2014, and on the heels of that, we got together an initiative to have plainclothes and uniformed officers on the buses and out of that came our ‘spot the cop’ program.”
According to the numbers, the program is clearly achieving the desired results. Kirstein said there were 96 reported incidents in 2013, 63 in 2014 and just 37 in 2015. He also said those figures reflect the reported incidents and there are numerous other situations where the cops on the buses intercede that don’t get reported.
“You can see this is going in the right direction and we want to keep that going,” he said. “The proof is in the pudding with so many fewer calls.”
Pryor said those declining figures do not take into account a significant increase in the number of buses in operation during the height of the summer season.
“We also had 20-percent more deployment last year,” he said. “We put a lot of equipment out on the street.”
Many of the officers on buses are in uniform and clearly visible, which has its own crime-deterring effect. In some cases the officers on the buses blend in with the rest of the rabble out on the buses on a hectic summer night.
“It’s very effective,” said Kirstein. “We’ll have a female officer dressed as if she is going out on a Friday night and the concept is, can you spot the cop? You never know who you’re sitting next to.”
Pryor said the program is extremely valuable to the transportation department and the drivers, many of whom are retired and work part-time or full-time during the summer.
“Most of the drivers are older, in their 60s and 70s,” he said. “This presence is extremely valued. It’s reassuring to the drivers.”
There was $30,000 in the fiscal year 2016 budget for the program, and another $35,000 penciled in for fiscal year 2017. Pryor explained about $21,000 had been expended thus far this year, leaving around $9,000 left for the end of the year until the new fiscal year begins on July 1. However, Public Works Director Hal Adkins said there was some wiggle room in another line item in the transportation budget to make up for any shortfalls this June.
Regardless of the funding mechanism, Kirstein assured the committee the OCPD would not abandon the program. He likened it to the Reducing the Availability of Alcohol to Minors (RAAM) program, which continues to be successful despite dwindling funds.
“The RAAM funds are drying up, but we’re still going to do it,” he said. “It’s just like this. If we don’t have the funding, we’re not going to stop doing this because it’s obviously effective. We’re committed to doing this.”