OCEAN CITY – The Ocean City Police Department is reaching out to more colleges and universities in an effort to fill seasonal police officer positions, an attempt considered promising to law enforcement officials.
“It has been a challenge the last couple of years,” Councilman Dennis Dare, chair of the Police Commission, said. “I asked that the chief give us an update on what the plans are going forward so that we hopefully reach our goals.”
In a Police Commission meeting Monday, Police Chief Ross Buzzuro addressed members of the committee about the agency’s efforts to target college-age students for temporary officer positions.
In 2016, the department visited 68 colleges and universities, 12 more than the year prior and 22 more than in 2013 and 2014.
The goal, Buzzuro said, was to increase recruitment efforts 20 percent in 2016. Within the year, the agency expanded its efforts 21.2 percent.
The 375-mile radius encompassed academic institutions from Boston to Myrtle Beach, S.C. and as far west as Ohio.
The efforts highlight the continued shortage of candidates for seasonal officer positions, an issue the resort community is trying to address in its visits.
“Obviously we are trying to bridge that gap, whether it be lack of enthusiasm or qualified applicants, and to get them on board,” Buzzuro said.
Mayor Rick Meehan and Buzzuro both acknowledged that marijuana use was a key factor in eliminating candidates from seasonal employment opportunities. According to Buzzuro, candidates who have illegally used marijuana in the three years prior to their application are automatically eliminated from the process. Those who ingest marijuana more than 20 times in their lives are permanently banned from being a law enforcement officer in Maryland.
“I think that will be addressed over time as the world changes and laws in different states become more liberal,” Meehan said. “It’s a shame to penalize somebody who was qualified otherwise.”
Buzzuro added that the three-year marijuana abstinence requirement is the department’s “Achilles heel” when vetting applicants.
Testing dates for interested candidates began in October and continue through February, but Buzzuro told committee members he sees promise for the upcoming season.
“We are seeing less come through the door,” he said. “But I can tell you what is promising is that the caliber and quality from the applicant is somewhat better than what we have seen over the last couple of years. We did have a test over this weekend and although we didn’t have a great turnout as compared to last year, this week we had 40-something people show up with a foot of snow on the ground.”
The chief added that candidates as far away as Ohio attended the testing over the weekend.
In addition to recruitment opportunities, the police department has employed the help of social media to promote a video campaign for perspective applicants.
Of the $5,000 budgeted for advertising, nearly $1,400 have gone to promote videos on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.
Results of the campaign report that the videos showed on more than 200,000 social media feeds over the course of one month, from November to December.
Buzzuro said individuals as far away as Korea and Russia saw the advertisements, but added that most viewers were from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
“Pennsylvania leads the charge and New Jersey is up there as well,” he said. “So we have pretty good success with that.”
Buzzuro said the department will continue the recruitment process and advertising campaign through the winter months, but acknowledged setbacks in the hiring process.
“We continue to be challenged by the hiring of seasonal officers,” he said. “Going from last year into this year we wanted to be aggressive in our search for candidates.”
Also in the meeting, Buzzuro presented commission members with a police activity update for the month of December.
Overall, police department officials reported decreases in calls for service.
Total crime activities have decreased more than 10 percent from its year to date. Robbery was one of the only activities to see significant increases compared to averages over the previous five years.