Undercover details found to be less effective deterrent than obvious PD presence
(July 5, 2019) By providing a nightly uniformed presence on municipal buses, the Ocean City Police Department has found potentially problematic passengers tend to behave, while allowing bus drivers to focus on the road instead of problem fares.
Sgt. Ronnie Townsend said since the “Spot the Cop,” ad campaign was launched in 2015 to highlight the presence of law enforcement on buses, police have increasingly shifted the focus from plainclothes to uniformed officers.
“Recently, we’ve been trying to do more uniforms as a preventative measure versus … catching them doing something wrong,” he said.
The cops on buses program launches around Memorial Day and was traditionally focused on the influx of recent high school graduates celebrating “senior week,” during early June.
“Once the seniors have gone, over the last couple of years, it’s actually continued on through the entire summer because the bus drivers [and] the pubic like the idea of officers on the buses,” he said.
This season about a half dozen uniformed and plainclothes officers are assigned to bus detail starting about 9:30 p.m. until bar traffic fades around 3 a.m.
“During the daytime, it’s no issues [and] everybody is happy to be here and shaking your hand,” he said. “As soon as the sun goes down, it’s a little bit different town.”
Townsend, who spends two nightshifts weekly serving in a uniformed capacity on city buses, said the first couple of hours are filled with mostly tourists going to and from the Boardwalk.
During June, the “senior week,” crowd tends to draw most of the focus, specifically earlier in the night, Townsend said.
“It makes them feel good that there’s a cop on the bus and it makes the parents feel good there’s a cop on the bus looking after their children,” he said.
Approaching midnight, the seats and aisles start to fill with J-1 students and other resort workers making their nightly trek home after a long day.
“Half of them are falling asleep on the bus because they’ve worked two and three jobs,” he said. “It’s just a sense of security and it makes them feel safe on the bus.”
Once the number of workers start to dwindle is right about when the array of popular watering holes start to empty, which provides the shift’s final task Townsend said.
“As soon as we get all the people home from the bars that ride the bus it’s not an issue for the bus drivers, or the other riders, because all the potential problem people have been put to bed for the night,” he said.
Although unexpected challenges are always a reality, Townsend has found the bus detail to be largely enjoyable.
“It’s a time to interact with the public,” he said. “We just sit there and shoot the breeze.
In his eight nightshifts of riding city buses, Townsend said he has had only one incident of note.
“I’ve only kicked one kid off the bus and that was during senior week,” he said.
Despite a uniformed police officer being stationed near the driver, Townsend said an over exuberant youth opted to throw a freshly drained beverage container out the bus window.
“Instead of charging him, I just made him get off the bus,” he said.
But by and large, Townsend said, the sight of law enforcement tends to nip bad bus behavior in the bud.
“With us in the buses standing there and greeting them when they initially get on … it’s like an unspoken word, ‘he’s here, I’m not going to do anything,’” he said. “The ones that potentially would cause problems either wave the bus by because they see me … or they can’t find their bus pass.
“Talking with bus drivers, it’s seemed like it’s helped with retention,” he said. “It is one less thing for the bus drivers to worry about [and] they can concentrate on driving.”
While bus driver recruitment efforts find many candidates willing to work during daylight hours, the applicant pool dwindles after the sun sets.
“You’ve got to have a special kind of temperament to ride the buses [at night] and put up with some of the shenanigans that go on,” he said. “We’re on the buses to make sure everyone has an enjoyable summer.”