Vehicle Auction Sparks Take-Home Policy Debate

OCEAN CITY — A seemingly innocuous measure this week to dispose of various vehicles and other town-owned property via auction sparked a larger debate about expanding the police department’s take-home policy.

The Mayor and Council had before them on Monday a list of vehicles, power tools and other town-owned property deemed to have outlived their useful life for various reasons set to be offered for sale by online auction. It comes up every couple of months after Procurement Manager Catrice Parsons and City Manager Doug Miller review requests for disposal and replacement of various town-owned property that is no longer suited for use by the various departments, but could have some value to others.

On Monday, the list of town-owned properties recommended for auction appeared to be heading to a quick approval before Councilman John Gehrig called into question the inclusion of a 2012 Chevy Tahoe with just over 134,000 miles. The Mayor and Council has long expressed a desire to expand the town’s Saturation Patrol Program (SPP), or take-home vehicle policy, for the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD).

The OCPD’s SPP 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.

Gehrig asked about the Chevy Tahoe with 134,000 miles in particular and question how “useful life” is determined. Miller said most often with vehicles it was mileage, wear and tear and suitability for police patrol work, for example. The Chevy Tahoe on the list might have plenty of use for daily commutes and runs to the store, for example, but not the rigors of daily police work, which is why it likely ended up on the list of property for disposal.

Still, Gehrig questioned if the likely minimum return for the auction of the vehicle would outweigh its benefit as a take-home vehicle for an OCPD officer. He said the vehicle might not be suited for daily police work, but if an OCPD officer who lived in town drove it home and parked it in his or her neighborhood, it could increase visibility and deter crime, a proven tenet of the SPP.

Councilman Mark Paddack, a retired OCPD officer, said there are a limited number of the department’s 100-plus sworn officers who actually live in Ocean City, which is a separate issue and likely a discussion for another day.

“Many of our officers have moved out of town,” he said. “There are probably four or five who actually live in Ocean City now and the program doesn’t always facilitate police cars in neighborhoods.”

Gehrig agreed, but said even if the Chevy Tahoe had passed its prime as a full-time police vehicle, it could be used as a take-home vehicle, providing more value that it will return at auction.

“Maybe this thing isn’t safe, but if it is safe, wouldn’t there be a benefit to having a vehicle available for a full-time officer to take home year-round?” he said.

Councilman Dennis Dare, who has advocated for expanding the take-home policy in the past, agreed with Gehrig.

“It’s a good discussion and I agree 100 percent,” he said. “It’s a proven fact marked take-home vehicles in neighborhoods deter crime. Historically, we’ve had about five to seven police officers life in town along with many of the command staff, but they often have unmarked vehicles.”

However, he also said the vehicles and other equipment included on the list are carefully inspected and reviewed by Miller and Parsons before they are considered for online auction and mileage is only one deciding factor.

“The problem is the vehicles up for replacement are carefully inspected,” he said. “The hardest miles for a vehicle are urban miles, or stop and start miles like we see with our police vehicles, and not highway miles. Those 134,000 miles on the Tahoe could be more like 200,000 miles because of the wear and tear police vehicles take.”

Mayor Rick Meehan said expanding the take-home policy was a valid discussion and could be renewed at the police commission level, although he agreed the Chevy Tahoe included on the list of property to be disposed of at auction on Monday might not be a good candidate.

“Take-home vehicles have been discussed numerous times in the past and we are always looking for ways to expand that,” he said. “There is a cost associated with doing that. This might be a better discussion for the police commission.”

The council voted 7-0 to approve the list of vehicles and other pieces of equipment from other departments on the list for online auction.

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.