(Feb. 1, 2013) The Ocean City Police Department’s year-end numbers indicate that major crimes against persons are on the decline, but property crime and other offenses – particularly drug- and alcohol-related ones – continue to be a battle.
Capt. Kevin Kirstein, currently serving as the OCPD’s acting chief after the departure of former chief Bernadette DiPino, presented the department’s annual report to City Council on Tuesday.
Most crucial, Kirstein said, was that the city’s rate of major crime seemed to be holding steady. Since 2006, the town has averaged 1,486 incidents per year that are severe enough to be reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s national records system. Such crimes include homicide, rape, robbery, assault, breaking and entering, larceny and motor vehicle theft.
The past year saw 1,497 such incidents, only a slight increase. Even so, the number of such major crimes committed against persons was down 10 percent, while major crimes against property rose six percent.
“We reported to you last year that we had a rash of burglaries in the Caine Woods area and in Montego Bay,” Kirstein told the council.
While those cases have been solved, the OCPD is still stressing its residential check program, whereby homeowners who will be out of the resort for an extended period of time can authorize patrol officers to come onto their property and check the premises for any signs of disturbance.
“We would love to keep an eye on your property if you’re going to be out of town for any amount of time,” Kirstein said. “We had no idea when those [Caine Woods and Montego Bay burglaries] occurred, because these people were gone for months and months. We would much rather do property checks on the front end than investigate a burglary on the back end.”
But major crimes, Kirstein said, only account for less than two percent of the OCPD’s calls.
The top 10 calls received during 2012 were, in order of volume, disorderly conduct, ordinance violations, hang-ups, suspicious persons or activity, alcohol violations, vehicle collisions, parking violations, controlled dangerous substances, thefts and noise complaints.
The department made 4,355 arrests in 2012, up 14 percent from 2011. Total enforcement actions, which include fines and citations that do not involve arrest, were up 17 percent to 24,479.
Most of this increase was due to drug, alcohol, and weapons violations, he said.
Arrests for driving under the influence numbered 445, up 67 percent, and arrests for controlled dangerous substances totaled 1,351, up 16 percent.
The number of incidents involving weapons was 112, up 125 percent. During those incidents, police seized 297 weapons. Several arrests involving weapons were made after police stopped vehicles for traffic violations or because the driver or passenger was not wearing a seatbelt.
“You would be surprised at the number of people who don’t wear a seatbelt, but carry a handgun,” Kirstein said.
One statistic that did decline was the number of incidents of an officer being assaulted. In 2011, there were 59 assaults on officers. Last year, that number fell 25 percent, to 46.
“I attribute this entirely to Tasers,” Kirstein said.
While the incidents in which a Taser was actually fired are relatively few, there have been a great number of incidents in which the simple display of a Taser has caused suspects to relent. In only once instance, Kirstein said, was an officer so equipped physically assaulted, and that officer was “sucker-punched” before he had time to draw his Taser.
“You’re going to see a request in next year’s budget for more Tasers,” Kirstein said. If the department were to procure 22 more devices, it would have enough to equip every officer on patrol at any time.
There were 30 calls for sexual assaults. Ten of those were verifiable, and half of those were solved. The national average for clearing sexual assault cases is 41 percent.
Among drugs and controlled dangerous substances, heroin has been noticeable in the area.
“Heroin is something we’re dealing with more and more,” Kirstein said. “We have kids in our community and Worcester County doing heroin and it’s devastating.”
The county, Kirstein noted, has allowed the OCPD to conduct operations outside its jurisdiction for cases that involve drugs in town.
“They’ll go outside of town, do the deal, and bring the drugs back into town,” he said. “We’re actually able now to follow them out there … and take the enforcement action necessary.”
Another change has been in crime scene analysis. The police department has three full-time forensics technicians, and given the presence of criminal forensics in television and pop culture, Kirstein said, “the public expects this.”
Despite the advanced techniques, police still solve most crimes the old-fashioned way.
“We still make three to four times as many cases on good ole fingerprints than we do with DNA,” Kirstein said.
The department’s officers logged over a million miles of patrol. The OCPD also tested 700 officers last year, with recruitment being one of its priorities given the department’s turnover.
“We’ve got to do that in order to keep the seasonal officer program going and to keep on track with the number of retirements we have,” Kirstein said.
Due to retirements, budget constraints and the added burden of the numerous special events that the city brings in, “we continue to struggle,” Kirstein said.
“A lot of times, we’re operating at minimum manpower. There will come a point where I will come to you and say, ‘If I do this, what else do you want me to not do?’”
Morale continues to be good, and although Kirstein said there is “some anxiety this time of year” regarding union contract negotiations, there was “no uncertainty” that the department will find continued success.
Kirstein stressed that the department was committing fully to the ongoing strategic planning process, and was developing its own goals around the needs of the area it serves.
“There are times when what’s good for the community is not necessarily what’s good for individual police officers, the chief of police or the City Council and our budget,” Kirstein said.