OCEAN CITY — With Memorial Day now just weeks away, the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) is preparing its seasonal officers for another summer season and the total number is looking better than it did a few months ago.
OCPD Ross Buzzuro on Monday briefed the Police Commission on the status of the seasonal police officer recruitment and training efforts. Buzzuro said the seasonal officer training academy began last Saturday. In terms of raw numbers, the chief said there were 73 new seasonal officers to go along with four returning seasonal officers.
That brings the total to 77, which is considerably lower than just a few years ago when the OCPD hired well over 100 seasonal officers, but with today’s challenges in getting young people interested in police work along with more jobs in police work than candidates, Buzzuro said he was comfortable with the number heading into the summer season.
“We’re at 77, which is about 30 more than last year,” he said. “We’re optimistic about the summer. We had our seasonal officers in their first week of academy last weekend and nobody dropped out, so that’s a good sign.”
Mayor Rick Meehan thanked Buzzuro and his staff for their diligent and rigorous seasonal officer recruiting efforts over the summer.
“Thanks for the effort put forth by the department,” he said. “I know it was a challenge, but obviously it worked. We have a ways to go, but it looks good.”
Some on the committee questioned if just four returning officers was a low number. Buzzuro said it goes in cycles and the typical season officer returns two or three years.
“At best, we might be able to get three years out of them,” he said. “Plus, the market is so saturated that it’s very competitive. We need to work hard to make sure we get the new ones this year to come back next year.”
Councilman Wayne Hartman asked if there were a sufficient number of vehicles available for 77 seasonal officers. Buzzuro explained most of the seasonal officers are deployed on foot patrol on the Boardwalk and downtown area and some gravitate toward bicycle patrol.
“Most are deployed on the Boardwalk, so vehicles aren’t an issue,” he said. “Most are on foot patrol or bike patrol as an alternative and most are deployed on the south end.”
Nonetheless, if the seasonal officers are on foot patrol, they still need to get from where they live to where they work. Hartman asked if parking in the downtown area was a challenge with the seasonal officers.
“What do we do for them for parking?” he said. “Looking at the exit interviews, some said they left because they had to pay to park downtown.”
City Manager Doug Miller said a lack of employee parking areas in the downtown area created challenges for many departments, but particularly the police department.
“That’s an issue for all of our employees,” he said. “The police side is more difficult. We have to give them an opportunity to park in some of the revenue spaces, but we recommend they park in the less-used spaces away from the core areas downtown.”
Hartman questioned the chief about the number of vehicles available for the department and the potential for expanding on the take-home policy. Some regular sworn officers who live within city limits take home their marked police vehicles for the dual benefit of convenience, but also for the visibility.
“The reason for my question is if there are vehicles that are unused, we could employ a take-home program,” he said. “There is a real benefit to having police cars in the neighborhoods.”