Chief Outlines Recruiting Efforts In ‘Tough Environment’

OCEAN CITY — With recruiting season for seasonal police department officers and public safety aides heading into the back stretch, at least one resort official this week voiced concern the current numbers appear to be falling short and questioned if enough was being done.

During an Ocean City Police Commission meeting last month, Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Chief Ross Buzzuro presented his monthly update on the department’s recruiting efforts for seasonal police officers and public safety aids (PSAs), and the numbers weren’t exactly encouraging.

Buzzuro on Tuesday presented his same update to the Mayor and Council during a review of the police commission meeting and not much had changed, although there have been more testing dates since November, the results of which are not yet known.

Buzzuro reported on Tuesday there had been 25 applicants for seasonal officer positions through November, of which 19 were still in the testing and vetting process. Similarly, there have been 10 new applicants for PSA positions through November although as many as 20 have said they are returning this season.

By comparison, last year the OCPD had 115 applicants for seasonal police officer positions of which 42 were hired. Similarly, last year the department had 50 applicants for PSA positions of which 48 were hired. At least 20 of those from last year have committed to returning.

The department has held two more testing weekends in December since those numbers were last reported, along with a handful of testing weekends this month and later in March, so those apparent dismal numbers will likely go up and the department will get closer to its target numbers.

“We have resumed testing,” said Buzzuro on Tuesday. “As of November, there were 25 seasonal officer applicants and 10 for public safety aides, which are slightly off last year’s numbers. We have other testing weekends coming up and I will be reporting on those results.”

Council Secretary Tony DeLuca reflected on the current recruiting figures for the department and asked if enough was being done.

“Can we compare where we are through the same time last year?” he said. “Do we have some kind of plan in place if we fall short?”

DeLuca pointed at similar recruiting challenges for other departments and asked if similar measures were being considered for the OCPD. For example, the transportation department in recent years has faced challenges recruiting, hiring and retaining bus drivers and tram drivers, and incentive plans have since been put in place such as hourly wage increases, loyalty bonuses etc.

“We’ve seen this in some of our other departments,” said DeLuca. “Maybe its better salaries and benefits, or maybe we need to reach out to colleges and universities outside of our zone. Maybe we can sell the quality of life. We just need to have some kind of plan.”

Buzzuro defended the department’s recruiting and hiring practices for season officers and PSAs.

“We do have a plan and we’re using that,” he said. “We actually make adjustments every year depending on the circumstances. We’re going to have several more testing dates coming up through March. That will conclude our testing period. We look every year at how we can improve. Where we are this year compared to last year is slightly off, but not significantly off. These numbers here tonight don’t bear that out.”

Buzzuro said the department will likely see a boost when seasonal officers and PSAs from last year commit to returning this upcoming season. He said those numbers will be reflected in his future recruitment reports.

“Some of the good news is we’ll see seasonal officers returning for a second year,” he said. “A lot of them have expressed interest, and that’s a shot in the arm for us. It remains challenging but I don’t want you to think we don’t have a plan in place.”

Buzzuro, as he has in the past, cited challenges in recruiting law enforcement officers in the current climate. He said the OCPD is already doing many of the things DeLuca suggested with varied results, but the final numbers are a bit of a moving target, and the department will likely get close to hitting the mark.

“We’ve been busy recruiting at colleges and universities, and we’ve been looking at salaries and a number of other things,” he said. “As I’ve reported again and again and again, this is tough environment. It’s hard to get full-time police officers let alone part-time officers.”

Buzzuro said doing outreach and recruiting at colleges and universities for potential seasonal officers and PSAs in just part of the equation. Because of the nature of the job, each applicant must be carefully vetted with background checks before they are eventually prepared to get out on the streets.

“When you include the vetting process just to get them through the door, and see them go through the academy and matriculate into the field, that’s what we’re dealing with right now,” he said. “It’s a little discouraging, but I’m cautiously optimistic right now.”

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.