(Jan. 17, 2020) A growing struggle to recruit seasonal officers and public safety aides notwithstanding, Police Commission Chairman and Councilman Lloyd Martin said he was proud of the commission and its support of the Ocean City Police Department, especially as the resort sees another year of declining crime.
“The police department has done a good job,” Martin said at Monday’s commission meeting. “Citizen calls for service have gone down, and when you have that it means we have proactive police officers.”
Last month saw a 4.2 percent decrease in citizen calls for service, 24 fewer than December 2018, while officer calls for service increased from 897 December 2018 to 1,107 last month.
While December 2019 saw a slight uptick in custodial arrests compared to 2018, overall, last year marked another decrease in crime.
The city saw its first major shift in crime stats in 2016 when it had reached a 25-year low, Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro said in a February update last year to the mayor and city council.
Since then, the city has consistently seen double-digit reductions in crime, meaning the number of victims has been dropping by the hundreds.
“I think the biggest thing right now is— we have a good force, [so] keeping it solid [is the goal],” Martin said.
As aforementioned, however, the police department has struggled with recruiting seasonal employees.
According to Buzzuro, compared to last year, the department saw a 40 percent decrease in seasonal officer applicants, and a 30 percent decrease for Public Safety Aides.
“It’s just becoming more and more challenging for us,” Buzzuro said. “... A very good economy, other good jobs are plentiful, varying fields, it’s just a shift … This trend has continued now for a number of years.”
The police department has the budget to employ 146 officers and public safety aides, but Buzzuro said he did not know whether his department would fill those positions or even come close to doing so.
“It’s just a tough environment we are finding ourselves in,” he said.
Buzzuro said this decline in the law enforcement profession has been prevalent for roughly five years.
What makes the situation even more daunting is that colleges and universities are also seeing fewer and fewer students interested in law enforcement.
Nonetheless, Buzzuro said 32 seasonal officers and 37 public safety aides from last season had expressed a strong commitment to return for the 2020 season, and he remained optimistic that the department would see a good turnout for its Jan. 18 testing after visiting 80 or so colleges and universities last year.
Other positive news Buzzuro shared was that despite the shortage in seasonal officers, the department’s full-time positions were stable.
“We are filled … and I can tell you that other law enforcement agencies across the state … they have vacancies. Most agencies have vacancies. We don’t on the full-time side,” Buzzuro said.
Martin said city officials would focus on continuing to provide police with resources it needs to maintain a pristine and intact Ocean City.
“What do they need, and how can they pay for it? It all comes down to money. We need to prioritize. If you look at our strategic plan … it says safe and clean as the top two priorities, and we got those goals — our highway is clean, and it’s [the city] is safe.”