OCEAN CITY — The crime rate in Ocean City in 2015 reached historically low figures not seen in the last quarter century, Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro told town officials this week.
On Monday, Buzzuro presented the Ocean City Police Department’s annual report for 2015 to the Mayor and Council, highlighting crime statistics and other achievements for the past year. According to the many facts and figures included in the report, 2015 proved to be the safest year in Ocean City since at least 1990, leading to the lowest number of serious criminal offenses in the last 25 years.
“This dramatic decrease in crime over the past 25 years is an accomplishment that not only our employees, but the residents and visitors of Ocean City should be very proud of,” he said. “Our personnel has worked extremely hard to ensure that Ocean City remains a safe place to live and visit and the statistics and accomplishments in this report prove that to be true.”
When compared to the previous lows in 1990, the total number of serious criminal offenses in Ocean City dropped by 45 percent in 2015. According to Buzzuro, that figure equates to thousands of residents and visitors who did not become victims of the most serious crimes, including assault, burglary and robbery, for example.
In addition to the significant drop in the total number of major crimes, since 1990 there has been an 89-percent decrease in motor vehicle thefts, a 60-percent decrease in aggravated assaults and a 68-percent decrease in burglaries. Buzzuro said those statistics illustrate how the department, along with its public and private partners, have been able to reverse the tide of crime in the resort.
“Crime is at a 25-year low and that’s a testament to the hard work of our officers and our support staff,” he said. “We’re seeing historically low crime rates and I’m very, very proud of that accomplishment.”
The OCPD also lived up to its mantra of “operationally sound and fiscally responsible” in 2015, coming in over $396,000 under budget.
“We were able to reduce crime and do less with more,” he said. “We came in roughly $400,000 under budget last year. We were very fortunate to get around $648,000 in grants to offset some of our budget expenditures and that’s a testament to our staff working behind the scenes.”
Councilmember Mary Knight pointed out the 2015 report is likely more significant when compared to the previous historically low crime rates in 1990 considering how the town has evolved in the last couple of decades. Statistically speaking, the summer crowds in June, July and August, for example, have remained fairly consistent, but Ocean City is drawing considerably more visitors throughout the year now with special events and other amenities.
“This is even more impressive when you consider the population change,” she said. “We had a lot more people in town in 2015 compared to 1990.”
Buzzuro agreed. While the population has grown over the years, the size of the department has grown in kind. As a result, the OCPD is more organized, more efficient and more proactive then in years past.
“There are just a lot more people visiting town, especially in the shoulder seasons,” he said. “You would expect the opposite, but the population keeps going up and the crime rate is still going down.”
The OCPD handled 144 major crimes, or Part I crimes, in 2015. There were 76,750 total calls for service handled by the department, including 22,508 citizen-generated calls and 54,242 officer-initiated calls. The total number of arrests declined to 2,535 in 2015, also representing a significant decline. Some of the reduction in arrests can be attributed to changes in the law, including making simple possession of marijuana a civil citation, but the lower arrest numbers also point to a change in philosophy to some degree.
“We arrest a lot less people than we used to,” he said. “Part of that is because some of the laws have changed, but we are seeing lower crime levels and fewer arrests. We know we can’t arrest our way out of a problem and we have to hit it head on.”
Alcohol-related crime continues to be an issue in a resort that hosts millions of vacationers each summer. The OCPD charged 422 individuals with driving while intoxicated in 2015, representing a 13-percent increase over the prior year. In addition, there were 719 alcohol citations issued in 2015, representing a significant drop-off compared to recent years.
“It used to be double that just a couple of years ago,” he said. “We have more proactive programs and awareness programs and the citizens are buying into that and following the laws.”
By and large, the 2015 report indicates the department has been successful in reducing crime across the board in the resort.
“I’m very pleased,” he said. “This is where we want to be. We want to be going in the right direction. I don’t know how far you’d have to go back to find a lower crime rate. There is still much work to be done, but we’re on the right track and I expect that to continue in 2016.”