OCEAN CITY – Ideas for improving police presence and community relations highlighted a recent meeting between local law enforcement and a downtown neighborhood watch group.
Last week, Ocean City Police Department Captain Elton Harmon provided the Ocean City Police Commission with suggestions and requests from the downtown Neighborhood Watch group.
Over the years, several Ocean City neighborhoods have established active neighborhood watch groups in an effort to reduce crime and encourage mutual assistance.
In short, the goal of the Neighborhood Watch program is to establish relationships among neighbors and protect the neighborhood. To date, Ocean City has established Neighborhood Watch programs at Caine Woods, Edgewater Avenue, Bayshore Drive, Caine Keys II, Little Salisbury, Montego Bay, Sundowner Park and the Boardwalk.
Harmon told commission members last week a recent meeting with the Boardwalk watch group highlighted the neighborhood’s concerns.
“The meeting kicked off with them giving me 10 suggestions, or proposals or concerns, they had coming out of summer 2020,” he said.
Harmon said the downtown group had highlighted the need for additional personnel at the south end of town, as well as a request to add stationary posts for officers along the Boardwalk.
He said the police department supported the request for additional officers, but suggested a reduction in the agency’s Boardwalk patrol sectors from four or five blocks to three blocks.
“One of the things I would like to do in our plan for 2021 is reduce the size of our foot sector and have consistency within our foot sectors,” he said. “That way our officers who are working those sectors over and over again from night to night, it will encourage them to reengage with community and business owners on a nightly basis.”
When asked why the department supported condensed foot patrols over stationary posts on the Boardwalk, Harmon said it was a better enforcement technique.
“It’s the theory of random patrol,” he said. “In random patrol, you can’t predict our movements, which opens up an opportunity for us to locate and catch things we would not normally see. Instead of waiting for it to come to us, we would be roaming.”
Harmon said the watch group also requested the police department place K9 units along the Boardwalk, as well as patrol cars at gated access points. He noted, however, that those ideas were dismissed because of liability issues.
Harmon told commission members last week the police department and watch group also had lengthy discussions on noise and disorderly conduct.
“There was some frustration expressed about not being able to arrest and enforce off what the complainant saw,” he said. “We tried to talk our way through the disorderly conduct laws, on-scene arrest and what we can do in law enforcement.”
In addition to the group’s many suggestions, Harmon noted the Neighborhood Watch had offered to donate one or two Mule vehicles to the police department. Last year, the Mayor and Council voted down the police commission’s recommendation to purchase the all-terrain vehicles over budget concerns.
“We denied that offer because our strategy had changed at that point …,” he said. “Instead of trying to use it as a force multiplier, we were going back more toward trying to saturate the area with personnel.”
Mayor Rick Meehan continued to stress the importance of enforcing all town ordinances. He said officers and public safety aides (PSAs) should remain diligent in their patrol efforts.
“I really hope the message … is that in all cases when an officer, or PSA or whatever, is walking down the Boardwalk or whatever, those eyes aren’t wearing blinders,” he said. “They are looking at everybody and stopping and talking to people. It doesn’t mean you arrest everybody, but you at least make a point to let them know what the law is. I think that if everybody sees that’s occurring it will make the difference.”
Councilman and commission chair Lloyd Martin also highlighted the importance of building relationships with Boardwalk business owners.
“Years ago, you walked the Boardwalk and probably knew every shop owner on the Boardwalk …,” he said. “That’s what we lost somewhat. We need the PSAs to know everybody that works in those stores.”