Off-Duty Police Work Policy Changed

OCEAN CITY — Opportunities for off-duty Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) officers to gain secondary private sector employment got easier this week after resort officials approved a policy change including a pay raise.

The Mayor and Council had before them a revised OCPD general order regarding secondary employment for its off-duty officers. In simplest terms, private sector businesses or special events often request the services of off-duty officers to assist with security or other police-related functions.

The town pays the officers engaged in secondary employment at a fixed rate and then bills the private sector entity that made the request. The general order presented on Monday deals with secondary employment for OCPD officers. The order was written in 2009 and the language in it has become antiquated and in need of an update. In addition, the pay scale attached to the department’s secondary employment attached to the program needed to be updated.

The issue was first discussed last week at the police commission level, and the commission forwarded a favorable recommendation to the council as part of its consent agenda on Monday. An example of secondary employment for police officers could be when a business or organization wants to hire an off-duty officer for security reasons, such as groups at a convention center event, hotels and other special events.

The requests for off-duty OCPD officers for secondary employment have largely gone unfilled and in many cases, off-duty Maryland State Police troopers or Worcester County Sheriff’s deputies, for example, have been utilized. During the police commission discussion, OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro said he feels strongly events and groups in Ocean City that request law enforcement for secondary employment should have the benefit of an OCPD officer.

The amended OCPD general order would increase the pay scale and certain restrictions would be deleted for supervisory staff. The wages were not included in the policy as it was written in 2010, and as such, OCPD off-duty police officer secondary employment wages became stagnant.

As a result, OCPD officers were unwilling to work for the 2010 pay rate of $40 per hour, causing 75% of the secondary employment requests over the past two years to go unfilled by an OCPD officer. Those requests were then backfilled by Worcester County Sheriff’s deputies and Maryland State Police troopers. The general order presented on Monday corrects those anomalies in that section of the code written over 10 years ago. The general order presented on Monday sought an increase in the police pay rate for secondary employment from the original $40 per hour to $50 per hour.

The general order also fulfills Buzzuro’s desire to have OCPD officers have the opportunity to fill those secondary employment requests from the private sector when off-duty and available. The chief expressed a desire to eliminate a provision in the order that prevents exempt employees from working only in a supervisory capacity to be struck from the original order.

“Our intention is to better serve the citizens and visitors of the town of Ocean City and fulfill their requests for an Ocean City Police Officer within the corporate limits of Ocean City rather than to have to look outside the town of Ocean City for police services,” the packet summary reads.

The revised general order includes laundry lists of the types of secondary employment opportunities that would be both allowed or prohibited for off-duty OCPD officers. The police chief would have some discretion in what types of secondary employment would be allowed if he or she determined the public safety benefit is greater than the potential conflict of interest.

“It mentions that the chief of police can deny any secondary employment requests,” said Councilman Mark Paddack. “Was there any thought given to a due process clause when an officer could potentially ask for reconsideration?”

OCPD Lieutenant Frank Soscia said there was language in the general order providing for some leeway in the secondary employment requests for officers.

“This gives the chief the latitude to make those decisions,” he said. “The way this is written, he can consider any form of secondary employment if it is determined it serves a public need.”

Councilman John Gehrig asked for a clearer definition of secondary employment for off-duty OCPD officers. Soscia explained a wide variety of examples where a private sector business or organization could request an OCPD officer.

“It could be anybody that requests an employee,” he said. “For instance, one of the local hotels could request a police officer because maybe they have a large gathering. It could be a special event that requests one, two or three police officers for security at the venue.”

Councilman Peter Buas, who serves on the police commission, explained compensation for police-related secondary employment is made through an arrangement between the town and the employer seeking a police officer. Essentially, the town pays the police officer based on the hours worked, and the employer who requested the secondary employment then compensates the town.

“First, the request is made to the police department,” he said. “The administration can then approve or disapprove the request and the town pays the officer and bills the employer who made the request. It is not considered overtime. A private employer contracts with the town of Ocean City.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.