OCEAN CITY — An expansion of the Ocean City Police Department’s take-home vehicle program to a year-round initiative was approved this week, but not before a discussion of whether the vehicles should be new ones.
At the budget wrap-up session last spring, the Mayor and Council voted to establish a year-round take-home vehicle policy, or Saturation Patrol Program, for Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) officers who live within city limits. The concept is to have OCPD officers who live in town use departmentally-issued police vehicles to and from work and its benefits are multi-fold.
On the one hand, having marked OCPD vehicles in the residential areas can help deter crime in those areas. In addition, having take-home vehicles provides an incentive for officers to live in town. Finally, the take-home program can and does improve response times in the event an off-duty officer has to quickly respond to an emergency.
Currently, the saturation patrol program is strictly a winter program with four OCPD police officers who live in town taking home their vehicles while off duty. In the summer, those take-home vehicles are put back into the department’s fleet because they are needed around the clock during the peak summer season.
After the council approved an expansion of the program last year, City Manager Doug Miller, Budget Director Jennie Knapp, Procurement Manager Catrice Parsons and OCPD Lieutenant Glen McIntyre came up with several options and potential funding scenarios, which were presented to the Mayor and Council on Tuesday.
The plan calls for the purchase of four new vehicles for the OCPD complete with all of the appropriate uplift kits, in-car radios and laptop computers to make them full-fledged police vehicles. The total cost of the four new vehicles including the complete police package comes in at just under $240,000. Two funding options have been identified including over $200,000 the OCPD returned to the general fund at the end of the fiscal year when it came in under budget. The second option was drawing from the income tax surplus returned to the town from the county when the amount came in over budget.
After hearing the presentation, the council appeared poised to approve the proposal with little further discussion.
“We’ve discussed this a long time,” said Council President Lloyd Martin. “I think everybody on the council agrees with it. It makes sense to do this if the cost is right.”
Councilman Dennis Dare, long an advocate for an expanded take-home policy, agreed.
“It enhances public safety in town,” he said. “It also encourages employees to live in town and it can reduce response times for some of our responders. It just has a lot of upside.”
While he supported the expanded program, Councilman John Gehrig said it was his understanding the take-home vehicles would be existing OCPD vehicles nearing the end of their useful life as full police patrol vehicles.
“My thinking is when vehicles get into retirement phase, they become the take-home vehicles,” he said. “When we need to replace them, we replace them. As it stands now, the officers drive to work and drive home in their own vehicles.”
However, McIntyre said the new vehicles were needed because the take-home vehicles had to be ready-to-go police vehicles. He said the take-home vehicles were not to be used to run to the grocery store or to the movies because the officers could be called into service.
“We’re buying four vehicles for this program,” he said. “I can’t dumb down the vehicle to save on the expense because they will be full police vehicles. If they’re in an OCPD vehicle, they are obligated to respond, even if they are on their way to or from work and they come upon an incident. We can’t have people out there in substandard and unsafe vehicles. They aren’t just shells with OCPD logos on them.”
Gehrig questioned if the existing vehicles in the fleet could be moved into the take-home program.
“I’d like every officer who lives in town to have a take-home vehicle,” he said. “I’m just not sure they need to be new vehicles.”
In terms of determining when an OCPD vehicle is nearing the end of its useful life as a full-fledged active vehicle, Parsons said there were many variables.
“You can’t look at a vehicle in terms of the number of years,” she said. “It’s the mileage and the idle time. Some have less than 100,000 miles on them, but might have 200,000 miles of idle time. I just don’t want anyone to think we’re getting rid of vehicles before they reach the end of their useful life.”
Councilman Tony DeLuca said it was his understanding expanding the take-home program would not require new vehicles.
“I’m going to vote for this and I support it, but I agree with John,” he said. “When this was discussed, I wasn’t aware it would require new vehicles. It always seems like we need another $200,000 for something. There is always another surprise.”
The council voted 7-0 to approve the purchase of the four new police vehicles and agreed to utilize the income tax windfall to pay for them.