OCEAN CITY — After years of dropping to historic lows, serious crime spiked significantly in 2020, according to the Ocean City Police Department’s annual report presented this week.
Police Chief Ross Buzzuro on Monday presented the department’s annual report to the Mayor and Council and the weighty tome revealed crime rates in most statistical categories rose significantly in 2020, despite the town essentially being shut down for a couple of months last spring because of the pandemic. The annual report highlights statistics, achievements and major accomplishments for the department during the 2020 calendar year.
In recent years, the annual report has painted a rosy picture of steadily declining serious crime rates. Last year, however, Part 1, or serious crimes, such as assaults, robberies, rapes and burglaries, for example increased by 21%.
The reasons were many, according to Buzzuro. There was pent-up frustration related to the COVID pandemic and civil unrest around the country, for example. Changes in the dynamics of the visitors to the resort were partly to blame for a variety of reasons, including a particularly troublesome June.
“The year 2020 was a challenging time, not just for Ocean City, but the entire country as we fought our way through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “I applaud the efforts of the men and women of this agency for making the sacrifice to work the front lines through this pandemic and the challenges we faced in 2020.”
Buzzuro said 2020 reversed a trend in a steady decline in serious crime over the last five years or so. In 2018, for example, serious crime in Ocean City had dipped to a 28-year low.
“Part 1, or serious crimes, were up 21 percent in 2020,” he said. “We had seen a drop-off in Part 1 crimes for the last five years at least.”
According to the annual report, total Part 1 offenses were up 21% from 1,509 in 2019 to 1,825 in 2020. Forcible rapes were up 200% from six in 2019 to 18 in 2020. Aggravated assaults were up 76%, from 66 in 2019 to 116 in 2020. Robberies were up 67% from 18 in 2019 to 30 in 2020, among others.
It’s no secret June saw the most serious crime last year, by far in several categories. For example, there were 494 Part 1 crimes in June, compared to 383 in July and 253 in August.
Councilman John Gehrig asked if pulling out the statistics for June and the pop-up rally would paint a truer picture of the entire year.
“Going forward, can we carve out statistics for four weeks and four days and see where the problems lie in context?” he said. “I’m talking about June and the four days of the pop-up car rally.”
Buzzuro also said violent crime was particularly a big issue in 2020, especially in June.
“During the summer of 2020, major crimes detectives and patrol officers jointly investigated 12 serious assaults including eight stabbings,” he said. “The detectives and officers were able to identify the majority of the suspects in these cases through cooperation with the community, the use of the City Watch cameras and assistance from other police agencies throughout the state of Maryland. A total of 15 felony arrests were made in relation to these assaults.”
Buzzuro said assaults on police officers were also up during 2020. There were 165 reported assaults on officers last year, compared to 110 in 2019 and 74 in 2018.
“In 2020, OCPD officers were assaulted a total of 165 times, 11 of which resulted in an injury to the officer,” he said. “This shows just how dangerous the job of a police officer can be. Assaults may be in the form of physical or non-physical violence and may or may not result in injury to the officer involved.”
Gehrig asked the chief to guestimate how many of the assaults on police officers came during the troublesome month of June and the pop-up car rally in late September. Buzzuro said he didn’t have the numbers in front of him, but made an educated guess.
“I would say 100,” he said. “I’d say two-thirds of the assaults on officers were in June. June was one of the most difficult months I’ve seen since I’ve been with the department.”
Another key indicator in the 2020 annual report is the number of calls for service. A call for service is generated for nearly anything an officer does while on duty, including traffic stops, a residential security check, major crimes or even a lost child, to name a few. Calls for service are generally divided into two categories, including officer-initiated calls and citizen-calls.
In 2020, there were 67,585 total calls for service, including 45,636 officer-initiated calls and 21,949 citizen-initiated calls. Officer-initiated calls declined slightly from 50,866 in 2019, while citizen-initiated calls rose slightly from 20,655 in 2019.