OCEAN CITY – A review of seasonal recruitment efforts this week led to a larger discussion on efforts to enforce town ordinances on the Boardwalk.
On Monday, Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro presented the resort’s police commission with an update on seasonal recruitment efforts for police officers and public safety aides.
Buzzuro said the department had hired 148 officers and public safety aides for the coming summer season, but 144 remained as of May 3.
“We’ve lost four since hiring in about a two-week period,” he said. “Based on past and present indicators, we may lose additional members … Right now, we’re just about at full strength with 144 going into the season.”
Buzzuro said returning public safety aides will enter the field on Memorial Day weekend, while returning seasonal officers, new public safety aides and new seasonal officers would return May 19, May 30 and June 3, respectively.
But while officials were pleased with the number of new and returning seasonal officers and public safety aides, they questioned what was being done to patrol the Boardwalk and enforce the town’s smoking ordinance ahead of the summer season.
“We got a couple of emails on this,” Council President Lloyd Martin, chair of the committee, said.
In 2015, Ocean City passed an ordinance that banned smoking on the beach and Boardwalk, except within 15 feet of a designated smoking area. And while the first two years with the new ordinance focused on outreach and education, the town last year began to change its focus to strict enforcement with fewer warnings.
Buzzuro told the commission this week that the police department would continue to patrol the Boardwalk leading up to the start of the summer season.
“We’ve got a lot going on right now as we move toward the season starting,” he said. “But with patrol, we are trying to keep an eye on the Boardwalk.”
Despite complaints from the public, Council Secretary Mary Knight said she had seen more people violating the town’s ordinance prohibiting animals on the beach and Boardwalk during the summer season than the smoking ordinance.
“What I’ve seen is dogs on the beach and people not cleaning up after their dogs,” she said. “I’ve seen more of that … The smoking I am not seeing, at all.”
Regardless, Mayor Rick Meehan encouraged the police department to remain vigilant and interact with individuals on the Boardwalk.
“It’s not a Part I crime, it’s typically considered a minor infraction on the Boardwalk,” he said. “But in the eyes of the general public, if the officers don’t notice it, or notice it but just keep walking if someone is smoking or has a dog, although it is very minor, it’s a credibility issue.”
Meehan said officers should continue to inform the public of the town’s ordinances.
“I hope that the word goes around, and we politely handle it,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be an arrestable offense. It doesn’t mean you have to fine them if someone is truly unaware. But at the same time, just the acknowledgement, just the fact that the public saw the officer walk over, makes all the difference in the world.”
Meehan said that simple act could improve relationships between the town and the public.
“It helps generate good will between the people and the officers,” he said. “That’s really what we want on the Boardwalk.”