(Oct. 9, 2020) Despite voting for the request, Councilman John Gehrig said the Ocean City Council needed to review the hiring of 10 full-time police officers and how the city would finance the move, while also commenting on the council’s tendency to make hasty decisions.
“I support the request, but I am definitely concerned,” Gehrig said. “It was good timing, whether it was intentional or accidental, it was good timing to have that item scheduled first meeting after a law enforcement crisis.”
Last week, Police Chief Ross Buzzuro and Capt. Mike Colbert made the request, citing dwindling seasonal officer recruitment and increasing responsibilities largely associated with special events.
Although council members were not thrilled by the request’s financial implications, they voted to approve the unbudgeted hiring.
The cost is not insignificant — baseline, it will cost the city roughly $1 million yearly and a one-time cost of $30,276 for equipment and training.
Additionally, full-time officers are put on a “step” table, which means an officer’s base level pay of $44,944 is likely to increase ever year.
This would be even pricier if a lateral officer, or one who is already trained from another department, were to be hired, which had been Ocean City Police Department’s desire.
Colbert added that an expanded police force might call for more patrol vehicles, which would cost close to $200,000 to purchase, upgrade, equip and tack on additional annual costs for fuel and maintenance.
“We voted to hire them tomorrow,” Gehrig said. “I mean there [were] no terms, it was just spend the money.”
Gehrig’s concerns were two-fold, with one being the glaring price tag of the approved request, the second being the council’s lack of proper deliberation.
“We’re talking about $1.5 million this year — that’s going to grow over the years,” Gehrig said, pointing out that the request for 10 was part of a larger goal of adding 33 full-time officers over the next two to three years. “This is a big decision and I don’t know why we need to ram it in.”
Gehrig also mentioned how in April, during budget sessions, the chief had requested only one additional officer, not 10.
He also called into question the need for more full-time officers, as crime and calls for service are down.
“A week ago we got an update, our calls for service were down — our calls for service are almost always down,” Gehrig said. “We have problems at times of the year, but we don’t have persistent problems all year. So what’s changed?”
In terms of special events, Gehrig said many more have not been added, and existing ones were declining in attendance.
Rather than ramping up full-time officers, the council needed to review its events, eliminate high stress-low profit ones and create better ones in partnership with the county.
The council, the police department and taxpayers will get a glimpse of what is to be relatively soon, as City Manager Doug Miller said the hiring request had been put on next Tuesday’s work session agenda for review.