Ocean City Likes Idea Of Expanding Take-Home Vehicle Policy

OCEAN CITY — Resort officials this week endorsed a proposed expansion of the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) take-home vehicle policy for officers who live within city limits that could ultimately implement the program year-round.

During Tuesday’s work session, the Mayor and Council heard a request from OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro and Lieutenant Todd Wood to expand the department’s Saturation Patrol Program (SPP), which allows certain sworn officers who live in the resort to take home their marked police vehicles in the interest of improving efficiency, enhancing police visibility and also expanding the life-span of the vehicles. It’s a common policy in communities all over the region and has been in place in Ocean City for over two decades.

However, the SPP is in place in Ocean City from Nov. 1-April 1 with only a handful of officers currently enrolled in the program.

“The program has been in place for 22 years and it’s been very successful, but there are limitations,” said Buzzuro. “We’ve spent a good deal of time researching this and we’d like to move forward with allowing take-home vehicles all year.”

Wood agreed expanding the take-home vehicle policy made sense and outlined several reasons why.

“When you look at the Saturation Patrol Program, right now it is seasonal but we’d like to do it year-round,” he said. “When you have saturation patrols in neighborhoods, not only do the bad guys see it, but also the residents in the community feel safer.”

Wood said the OCPD was seeking to purchase five additional vehicles for its fleet for the officers who live in Ocean City. He said there are currently three officer candidates in the police academy that live in Ocean City and they could be added to the program when they become sworn OCPD officers.

“We’d like five additional vehicles including three more for the guys in the academy who live in Ocean City,” he said. “We’d really like eight more, but that’s further down the road. Right now, we’re only looking at adding the five more for the fiscal year 2018 budget.”

There is a significant cost associated with expanding the program, but Wood explained the initial up-front costs would be offset by increased longevity for the vehicles, better care and maintenance by the officers who use them and reduced repair costs. The five vehicles would cost nearly $28,000 each, along with another roughly $20,000 to outfit equipment. In total, adding the five requested vehicles would cost over $241,000.

Wood explained beyond the financial considerations, there were also efficiency benefits to expanding the program.

“An officer with a take-home vehicle is ready to go to work when leaving home, rather than spending time picking up a cruiser and checking for all of the needed equipment,” he said. “When we have shift changes, sometimes there are 15-20 minutes while they shift out the equipment. Without the time spent meeting up with another officer and trading out equipment, officers coming on duty are immediately available for patrol coverage.”

Councilman Wayne Hartman endorsed the program’s expansion.

“I like the fact we’re encouraging our officers to live in town,” he said. “I also like the improved visibility.”

Councilman and Police Commission Chair Doug Cymek gave a first-hand account of its effectiveness.

“I live in the north end and our street benefits from having a saturation patrol vehicle there,” he said. “It’s been there for 12 years at mid-block on a long street. A large portion of the street is vacant during the off-season and having that car there causes motorists to slow down. We’ve had a dog killed and children nearly hit by cars. I’m a strong proponent for this.”

The council voted 7-0 to explore the expansion of the program in the next budget cycle.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.