OCEAN CITY – Requests for two new police officers, proposed changes to the police department’s General Orders and a discussion on new special event zone legislation highlighted this month’s meeting of the Ocean City Police Commission.
Police Chief Ross Buzzuro told the commission this week he was requesting two additional full-time police officers be added to the department.
“We would like to bolster the department by two,” he said. “We recognize there is a cost factor to this.”
Buzzuro attributed the need for additional officers to the town’s growth. He said special events, the summer season, training and a litany of other things kept his officers busy.
“Every police officer that is brought on board is a relief valve for another police officer,” he said. “We are also at 30-year crime lows and we expect the future vibrancy of the town to continue on, and we want to be positioned in a manner in which we will be able to effectively handle what is to come in the future.”
As of this week, Buzzuro said the department employed 106 police officers, including the eight that are currently enrolled in the police academy.
“On any given day, we have 106 officers on the books,” he said, “but we don’t necessarily have 106 officers to draw from.”
Buzzuro added, however, that he couldn’t find a way to pay for two additional officers in his budget.
“We recognize the fiscal constrains ahead,” he said.
City Manager Doug Miller recognized there was no area within the existing budget to finance the two additional officers, but said the request could be up for discussion in the budget process. Mayor Rick Meehan added the request also complimented discussions on increasing the town’s room tax, which helps pay for services in the resort.
“I certainly think it’s a valid request,” he said.
After further discussion, the commission voted unanimously to forward a favorable recommendation to discuss Buzzuro’s request during the budget process.
Changes To General Orders Proposed
Buzzuro also presented the commission with proposed changes to the police department’s General Orders this week.
“We look at our General Orders on a regular basis and try to make sure they currently reflect the business at hand and that it’s appropriate and contemporary,” he said.
The amendments, he noted, included changes to sections outlining the promotional process for non-exempt sworn ranks and use of force.
“In law enforcement, in terms of force, if someone holds onto an object it is viewed as resistance to the point where force can be exercised,” he said. “That view has changed based on the circumstances, based on the manner in which someone is holding on to an object. Therefore, for us to be consistent in the change in law enforcement, we are changing our General Orders.”
Buzzuro said police officers can still use force in situations, but the change was a way to protect members of the public.
“You still can use force, but it’s not an automatic use of force …,” he said. “You have to look at the circumstances.”
Buzzuro also highlighted changes to the promotional process.
“Some of the language changes within the promotional process,” he said, “but nothing that changes the true manner in how we conduct our examinations.”
The commission voted unanimously to forward a favorable recommendation to Mayor and Council to approve the changes.
New Special Event Zone Legislation Discussed
The commission on Monday also discussed efforts to include additional enforcement measures in the town’s special event zone, which features reduced speed limits and enhanced penalties for some traffic violations.
Meehan noted he, Miller, City Solicitor Guy Ayres and others have since met to talk about additional special event zone legislation.
“I think we were fortunate to get the special event zone legislation last year, and we can add to it now,” he said. “I think these are relevant additions.”
Buzzuro said the requested additions included penalties for reckless and negligent driving and increases to certain fines.
Council President Lloyd Martin, who was elected commission president this week, questioned if the town had reached out to county officials.
“Are the county commissioners on board …?” he said. “It might carry more weight.”
Meehan said the additions would be placed into bill form before being sent to the commissioners.
“They did support the special event zone the first time …,” he said. “We’ll ask them again.”
Meehan added that town officials have also sent the proposed additions to the delegate and senator, as it would require approval from the state legislature.
“It’s a next step,” he said. “We might find another step next year.”