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Crime numbers continue decline, but weapons spike sustains

(Sept. 13, 2013) Resort crime numbers for August continue to show a decrease in police activity and demand for service, with a few upward trends in certain areas that the Ocean City Police Department says it will investigate as the season winds to a close.

Service calls for August were up 1.8 percent over August of 2012, with 12,383 calls versus 12,757 last year, according to OCPD numbers released at this week’s Police Commission meeting.

However, if routine operations, such as traffic stops and business assistance requests, are pulled from the statistics, service calls actually drop to 8,400 versus 8,644 last August, a 2.8 percent decrease.

“I think these indicators are pretty positive for us as we move past August into the off-season,” OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro said.

Officer-initiated service, not prompted by citizen complaints, increased 3.1 percent if routine activity was included, but decreased 3.4 percent when eliminated.

“It shows a continuing downward trend, which I think is something we need to echo to the public,” Councilman and Police Commission Chair Doug Cymek said.

According to OCPD analysis, arrests year-to-date through Sept. 1 are down 33 percent. However, some comparative arrest data, especially for drug possession, has been difficult to establish this year as new state laws allow officers to issue criminal citations for certain minor offenses, instead of taking offenders into custody for booking at 65th Street.

According to the OCPD’s data, August 2013 saw 396 custodial arrests and 199 criminal citations issued that likely would’ve been full arrests before the criminal citation policy was passed in Annapolis. Even combined, however, the total is still less than the 698 arrests made in July 2012.

Drug data becomes even more skewed, with 87 arrests this August versus 142 citations. Combined, however, these are on par with last year’s 231 drug arrests for August.

The vast majority of drug violations in the resort are for marijuana, which covers 30 of the 37 incidents reported in the last week of the month, according to the OCPD’s more detailed data.

Serious crime, by the OCPD’s rubric, is down a net of 12.7 percent year-to-date through August 18, versus the same period last year. This statistic combines the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “Part 1” crimes, like homicide, rape and theft, with common assaults and less severe sexual offenses.

However, the OCPD has said it continues to see an uptick in weapons violations, with 143 through Sept. 1 of this year versus 130 over the same period last year, and only 66 in 2011. This is a 52 percent increase over the five-year running average.

Despite a shooting occurring in the resort earlier this summer, firearms violations are down from 31 through this point last year to 24 this year, OCPD Information Officer Mike Levy said. In many instances, knives as well as some more esoteric fighting equipment is covered under the definition of a “marital arts” weapon.

“Worcester County has a martial arts ordinance that we can enforce,” Levy said. “If you have a buck knife of less than three or four inches long, it’s not going to be illegal unless you actually try to use it or have the clear intention to hurt someone.”

In the majority of cases, weapons violations are not incidents in and of themselves, but the result of a search related to another offense. Guns, in particular, are often associated with drugs and other criminal activity, but Levy said only four of the 24 gun offenses so far this year resulted from drug searches.

In many instances, officers will find unsecured firearms in plain view during traffic stops, a scenario that police and offenders often find baffling. Many visitors seem to think that permits from another state give them the right to have concealed firearms on their person or vehicle in Maryland.

“I don’t know if they’re unaware that it’s not reciprocal, or if they’re just disregarding the law and believe it’s their right,” Levy said. “We support everyone’s Second Amendment rights, but until there’s a court ruling saying that one state must honor another’s permit, we’re not going to have a whole lot of flexibility on that.”

Unless the individual has a valid state permit for concealed carry, Maryland requires all firearms in vehicles to be in a locked container, with the ammunition stored separately from the gun.

“We don’t feel the need for a firearm other than for sporting purposes… in Ocean City,” Levy said. “It’s a very safe area. If you’re legally allowed to carry a firearm, you’re not going to have any issues. Otherwise, all you’re doing is asking for trouble.”

According to the department’s most recent reports, four handgun seizures were made between Aug. 23 and 31. In two instances, 9 mm pistols were seen unsecured in a glove box and a trunk during traffic stops.

In another instance, a .40-caliber Glock was seized after an officer approached suspects who appeared to be engaged in drug activity near the Route 50 bridge. In the fourth instance, a .357 revolver was taken from a subject seen smoking marijuana.

“Are these guns indicative of criminal activity, or are they just unaware people?” Levy asked. “Our incidents are probably predicated on several factors that we’ll have to sit down and put together in the next month or so.”

Officers also drew their Tasers ten times in August, according to the report, although they were only fired in three incidents.

“The obvious connection in these incidents is alcohol use by the suspects,” Buzzuro said.

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