OCEAN CITY — While the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) is at full-strength in terms of full-time officers, recruiting and hiring seasonal officers and public safety aides continues to be a challenge.
During a review of a Police Commission meeting earlier this month, OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro last Monday brought the Mayor and Council up to speed on recruiting efforts for seasonal officers and public safety aides (PSAs) for next season. Buzzuro said the department to date has hosted four testing weekends with another scheduled for next month, but recruiting and hiring seasonal part-time officers remains challenging.
“Right now, we’re a little sluggish in attracting and ultimately hiring part-time summer help for 2022,” he said. “Currently, we have 49 seasonal officer applications with 32 in the process. We have 16 PSAs in the process and our next testing date is on January 8.”
Council Secretary Tony DeLuca said it appears to be chronic problem, not only in Ocean City, but for law enforcement agencies around the country in the current climate. DeLuca commended Buzzuro and his staff for somehow always reaching the goals in terms of seasonal officers and PSAs.
“We seem to always have this discussion every year,” he said. “I hear you say sluggish across the country. It was the same way last year and yet you’ve exceeded expectations in you hiring of seasonal officers and PSAs.”
DeLuca questioned if every stone had been unturned in terms of recruiting and hiring part-time officers for the department.
“My question is, have you exhausted every avenue?” he said. “What have we done differently this year? Have we exhausted every avenue in terms of age, in terms of social media, in terms of starting salaries, average hourly rates, overtime, hiring bonuses? I’m just wondering if we have gone over every single one of those details.”
Buzzuro said the department consistently attempts to recruit part-time seasonal officers from colleges and universities in the region. He said it has just become more challenging because of the current climate with law enforcement here and around the country.
“We have a model that consistently worked year after year,” he said. “We’ve looked outside the box, but we can’t get too far out of that box because the challenge is this profession is no longer attractive as it once was.”
Buzzuro said DeLuca was right in terms of exploring every option to recruit more officers, but the pool of potential candidates is fairly shallow.
“You hit the nail on the head,” he said. “We’re very fortunate at this time because we’re at full strength with full-time officers. In terms of hiring part-time seasonal officers and public safety aides, we’re looking at a very narrow group of folks. Most are coming from colleges and universities. It tough to get away from that and reinvent the wheel, so to speak.”
Buzzuro said Ocean City faces obstacles when it comes to attracting part-time officers. He said the resort for years has been a jumping off point of sorts for many seeking law enforcement careers, but that has changed somewhat.
“One of the issues we’re having is the distance and the lack of housing,” he said. “For the last several years, Ocean City has been looked at as a starting ground for careers in law enforcement. We’re the feeding ground for many departments, not only in Maryland, but up and down the eastern seaboard. Our officers become officers elsewhere. It’s not the best business model, but it has worked for us.”
The chief said with the demand for law enforcement officers peaking, potential candidates no longer have to look at Ocean City as a resume builder. Qualified potential candidates can go straight into larger metropolitan departments with possibly better pay or housing opportunities.
“They can start here, but there is no longer a waiting list for other departments like Philadelphia and New York, for example,” he said. “Once you’re vetted, you’re going to become a police officer because there is such a dire need. They don’t need to come here first. They can go where they want to work on sign on the dotted line because that’s the shape we’re in. Factor in the pay and the cost of relocation and it has become difficult.”
Nonetheless, the OCPD continues to attempt to attract and hire police officers despite the changing landscape.
“We continue to look at ways to attract people,” he said. “We’re doing our very best, but it’s just trying times right now.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said the news was good, at least on the full-time officer front.
“You talked about being at the full complement of full-time officers,” he said. “That’s in part because I had the opportunity to attend the graduation of new officers on Friday. We have five officers in training and I was able to go and swear them in. You’ve done a great job in recruiting full-time officers. A lot of places haven’t been able to do that, so good job.”