OC To Explore Year-Round Police Vehicle Take-Home Policy

OCEAN CITY — While they didn’t stroke a check, resort officials this week remained open to expanding the police department’s vehicle take-home policy if a pending staff report warrants it.

The discussion of expanding the Ocean City Police Department’s vehicle take-home program for officers who live in the resort is not a new one, but it has simmered off the back-burner during recent budget deliberations. The take-home program, known as the Police Saturation Patrol (PSP) program allows certain sworn officers to take home their marked police vehicles in the interest of enhancing visibility in the residential neighborhoods, deterring crime and improving efficiency.

Currently, just four officers have marked take-home vehicles they park in the neighborhoods in which they live. The program is only in place during the offseason because all police vehicles are pressed into service during the summer. The debate about expanding the program began anew last week during the department’s budget presentation and continued over into this week’s budget session.

During last Thursday’s OCPD presentation, it was learned the department had requested six new vehicles and five had been included in the budget. The cost of the sixth unfunded vehicle would come in at around $60,000 when it was fitted for police duty. Councilman Dennis Dare, who has advocated for expanding the PSP, asked if finding a way to include the vehicle in the budget would allow the department to expand the take-home policy.

“We’re talking about $60,000 to add one more vehicle,” he said. “You mentioned there are four participants in the saturation patrol program. Is that limited by the number of patrol officers living in town or by the number of vehicles available?”

Police Chief Ross Buzzuro said the number of available vehicles did curtail the PSP program somewhat.

“The number of vehicles is really a restraint from allowing them to take them home year-round,” he said. “That’s because of the demand in the summer season. We just aren’t able to accommodate that.”

However, Buzzuro also said any take-home vehicles would be pressed into full-time service in the summer.

“In the offseason, that vehicle is sitting somewhere maybe 14 to 16 hours a day,” he said. “In season, the vehicle is being operated 24-7. We need every one of those vehicles to come back to us in season.”

Dare wasn’t suggested adding more police vehicles in the fiscal year 2020 budget at that point, but was trying to nail down just how many were needed to expand the program.

“I’m just trying to get to a number,” he said. “Currently, you have four marked patrol cars in the saturation patrol program. What if we wanted to make them year-round so that even in the summertime, they are providing that service to the neighborhoods? It would probably take four more vehicles at around $60,000, or about a quarter of a million dollars to do that.”

Councilman and former OCPD officer Mark Paddack listened to the discussion before weighing in.

“I’m about to explode,” he said. “The tail doesn’t wag the dog and we’re the dog. I agree with Councilman Dare 100 percent with the concept of the PSP being year-round for full-time officers.”

Paddack told Buzzuro he would be willing to work on suggestions to expand the program and said creative ways of funding it could be determined.

“I would strongly encourage you to find a way to make that happen under the PSP,” he said. “We would have to make it happen on the money side. I think there are creative ways on how we can make this work. I think our citizens deserve it.”

At that point, it was decided to revisit the issue during budget wrap-up when the last-minute details were finalized. During Tuesday’s budget wrap, City Manager Doug Miller re-opened the dialogue.

“The thought is to expand this program to year-round,” he said. “The primary benefit is improved safety in the neighborhoods. The second benefit is it might induce young officers to live in town.”

Miller said it was likely too late to add more police vehicles to the fiscal year 2020 budget at that juncture. Instead, he advocated for meetings between himself, Budget Manager Jennie Knapp, Procurement Manager Catrice Parsons and the OCPD command staff to explore expanding the program and return with recommendations.

“I like your suggestion to sit down and figure it out among the staff,” said Paddack. “I say go ahead and work it out. Direct staff to sit down and work on a proposal to establish a year-round saturation patrol initiative.”

Dare made a motion to have the staff study the issue. His motion also included finding the funding if the recommendations called for it.

“We have four participants in the saturation program and we’ve had as many as seven in any one year,” he said. “My motion is to include four patrol vehicles should the staff study support it. We’re in a position to make the purchases.”

Council Secretary Mary Knight said the will was there to expand the program.

“This council is committed to expanding the police saturation patrol year-round and when the study comes back with recommendations, the funding will be there,” she said.

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.