OCEAN CITY – Concerns about rising overtime costs in the resort’s police department, particularly during the offseason, were allayed somewhat last week when the police chief outlined a myriad of reasons for the spike.
During a budget wrap-up session last Thursday, Council Secretary Tony DeLuca, who often rails about overtime in all city departments, raised the question about the spike in overtime at the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD). Since the last budget cycle, the OCPD overtime paid has increased by $60,000, from $840,000 to $900,000.
“I asked the question because I was curious,” he said. “Everybody knows I hate overtime, but I certainly understand. I certainly understand June at half-a-million dollars and support it. I understand September at $142,000 and I support it. I understand the seasonal things in October. What I can’t understand is November, December, January, February and March at $262,000 when you’re fully-staffed. I just can’t understand it.”
OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro explained much of the overtime paid is when his department has to ramp up deployments during certain times.
“When we look at overtime in a traditional sense, we might have six officers on, and when we have issues arise, we might bump that up to eight or 10 because there is more work to be done,” he said. “That can be several hours of overtime.”
Buzzuro also attributed some of the challenges during the pandemic to the overall increase in overtime paid in his department.
“There is a myriad of ways an officer hits overtime,” he said. “The last couple of years have been extraordinary because of COVID. There are also a lot of circumstances in our postseason that we all know about. Some of the overtime is being spent in the offseason, especially in the extraordinary times we’ve seen the last couple of years. The number of training sessions never stopped during COVID. Basically, officers have had to do double what they did a couple of years ago to make up for it.”
It’s no secret the OCPD has been trying to increase its number of full-time officers, which has now grown to 116 sworn officers.
In addition, it’s a constant struggle to reach the desired number of seasonal officers and public safety aides, all of which have to be recruited. During the pandemic, recruiting efforts were limited somewhat, but has now returned to some sense of normalcy, which has contributed to the increased overtime for the OCPD.
“Recruitment has resumed,” he said. “With the pandemic waning, we actually had to go back in the field to colleges and universities. There is a cost to that as well.”
Buzzuro said increases in arrests and enforcement efforts, especially during June and certain other sanctioned and unsanctioned special events has resulted in more court time for his officers, which has contributed to the spike in overtime.
“A couple of years ago we went into the pop-up rally, car events, also the previous Junes,” he said. “That had an effect on our agency and our department in arrests and enforcement efforts. All of those cases had to be adjudicated in court and we really can’t control that. That accounts for a lot of overtime.”
Overall, Buzzuro said his department has increased deployment, including an expanded presence on the Boardwalk in the summer, which is yet another reason for the increase.
“We didn’t pump the brakes at all last summer,” he said. “We pushed all the way through. That’s where you see the overtime in August 2021 compared to 2020.”
Buzzuro often points out during budget time, and during the presentation of his department’s annual report, that the OCPD consistently comes under budget each year.
He said he and his command staff are cognizant of the need to watch payroll hours, but at the same time, his department needs to maintain efficient and effective operations.
“The cumulative effect of all of the things I just mentioned are of the reasons why we have reached the overtime levels,” he said. “I can tell you as your chief there isn’t any spending that isn’t justified. We can break down the individual dates or the individual events and we can always do better, but the overtime is very key to our operation. It is the cost of doing business. The good news is as we come out of COVID, we should be able to see an apples-to-apples comparison.”
DeLuca said he wasn’t taking the department to task on the overtime hours logged during the peak summer months, but still had concerns about the overtime in the offseason.
“I just have a problem with January, February and March,” he said. “I often worry that overtime begins as a need and it ends as salary. I just caution that in down time. In June, August and September, whatever you need I support that.”