OCEAN PINES – As staffing shortages continue at the Ocean Pines Police Department, Chief Leo Ehrisman says efforts are underway to attract and retain officers.
With the support of General Manager John Viola, Ehrisman says he will go before the Ocean Pines Board of Directors in the coming months to discuss initiatives aimed at recruitment and retention. From pension plans and insurance changes to take-home car policies, Ehrisman says his department is making every effort to remain competitive as staffing shortages continue.
“My problems right now are not an Ocean Pines issue,” he said in an interview this week. “It’s happening at every police agency. Because of the recruitment and retention issues, everyone is trying to sweeten up their pot.”
As the Ocean Pines Police Department (OPPD) works with the administration to attract officers to open positions, Ehrisman says the department is making every effort to maintain the level of service the community expects from its police department.
As of this week, Ehrisman reports the OPPD is down three to four officers. To cover shifts, the department is working with allied law enforcement agencies and has implemented mandatory overtime, with officers working 10-hour days.
“My guys, instead of working four days on and three days off, are working five on and two off,” he explained.
But Ehrisman says this operations plan is not sustainable. In addition to officer burnout, Ehrisman said the situation – coupled with increased gas prices and the implementation of a body-worn camera program – has greatly impacted the department’s budget.
“The shortage of manpower costs you more money because of having to pay overtime to cover the shifts that are not covered,” he added.
In his office this week, Ehrisman thumbed through pages of incentives and bonuses being offered by local law enforcement agencies to fill ongoing vacancies. And with the board’s support, he said the OPPD is hoping to do the same.
“These are not things the board has denied us,” he said. “This, right now, is something we’re preparing to take to the board with the support of the general manager. He’s fully in support of helping us address these issues.”
In Ocean Pines, the fiscal year begins on May 1. But Ehrisman said he is looking to present initiatives that can be implemented before the next budget cycle.
“Some of these things are going to have to be addressed,” he said. “I can’t wait a year to address them.”
One such initiative to address recruitment and retention, he says, is a take-home car policy. While such a policy existed under the previous administration, Ehrisman said it was limited to those officers living in Ocean Pines.
“When my officer lives at point A, and he has to drive through three or four jurisdictions to come work here, and all four of those jurisdictions are offering a better package than what we are, how do I keep them here?” he said. “That’s the problem.”
Ehrisman said the department is also looking into pay differentials and health insurance, though such initiatives could take longer to implement.
“The insurance coverage could make or break you as far as pay,” he said. “We used to have full-benefit insurance, and several years ago the board in office at the time took it away and cut us to an 80-20 program.”
Ehrisman said the department is also looking into pension plans. While many police departments offer LEOPS (Law Enforcement Officers’ Pension System), he noted that the OPPD is not eligible.
“Ocean Pines is not a municipality,” he explained. “But there are other pension plans, and that’s what we’re trying to present to the board and to the community.”
Officials say they are looking to present their plans to the board before the start of the next budget cycle. Ehrisman added it is necessary to begin recruitment and retention efforts now, as it typically takes a year to replace an officer.
“The next academy doesn’t start until January, which means you won’t graduate until July, which means you won’t be on the road by yourself until September …,” he said.
Ehrisman noted, however, that process only begins after an application is received.
“I remember years ago, for one position, we would have 30 applications and we would have to do testing to narrow that down …,” he said. “Most agencies now don’t even have applications on file.”
Ehrisman said those interested in joining the OPPD can fill out an application, which is available on the association’s website, under the “Police Department” tab.
“Right now, we’re looking at what we can fix that the board’s not going to object to,” he said, “that we can do within this budget, to go ahead and make the changes we can.”
In a board meeting last week, General Manager John Viola noted the police chief’s initiatives would be detailed at a future meeting.
“We will come forward with the chief to articulate, but we are working on that …,” he said. “I will be coming forward with the chief as he finalizes that document.”