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Ocean City

Signature policy will increase police department’s legwork

(April 12, 2013) Police work in Ocean City, particularly downtown, could be a bit different this year because of logistical changes and challenges, the Ocean City Police Department’s command staff said at this week’s Police Commission meeting.

“We are going to experience some difficulties this year, particularly in the southern district,” said OCPD Capt. Kevin Kirstein.

Kirstein, Capt. Michael Colbert and Capt. Greg Guiton have been rotating the duties of chief of police while the city searches for a replacement for former OCPD head Bernadette DiPino, who departed in January.

Likely of largest concern to the department’s day-to-day operations is a change in District Court policy that requires that the actual signature, not an electronic copy, of an arresting officer be presented when a suspect is charged in court.

This presents a massive logistical challenge to the OCPD, given the distance between the city’s downtown crowds and the OCPD headquarters and courthouse building at 65th Street, particularly because of summertime traffic. Officers making arrests at the southern end of the resort would typically fill out paperwork at the department’s Worcester Street substation and transmit it electronically to headquarters.

Detained suspects would then be driven north en masse via a “paddy wagon” van, thus allowing officers downtown to stay downtown and to continue working without having to come back to 65th Street every time they made an arrest.

“We’re basically having to go back to the days of a guy on a horse,” Colbert said about the relay of original paperwork.

But in terms of the time it takes to process arrests, “I don’t see it holding us up much more than an extra hour or so,” Colbert said.

The department will also be requesting 10 new Public Safety Aide positions for the coming fiscal year. PSAs are non-sworn employees of the department who perform duties, such as clerical work or doling out parking tickets, that do not require an actual police officer. PSAs could now, conceivably, be used as paperwork runners as well.

Furthermore, Kirstein said, the increased paperwork burden created by the signature policy might be offset by the state’s broadening of criminal citations. Some offenses, including some drug-related, which used to require the suspect to be charged in court can now be dealt with by issuing a citation on the spot, eliminating the need to shuttle between the point of arrest and 65th Street.

At the same time, however, the city is currently engaged in a debate with Worcester County that could affect the OCPD’s ability to house detainees. The warden of the county jail in Snow Hill, Colbert said, is now requesting that the liability for suspects jailed there be placed on the arresting agency, and not the county itself.

“The typical situation where that’s relevant would be where, unbeknownst to us, our guy stops somebody and finds out he’s wanted by Baltimore City,” Colbert said. “We would hold him on a warrant from Baltimore. But sometimes Baltimore or the other metro police departments won’t be able to send somebody to pick him up for a few days. It happens a lot on weekends.”

The city would house longer-term detainees at the county jail, which is better equipped to keep suspects for extended periods. The lockup at 65th Street has no kitchen.

While at the Snow Hill jail, the county would typically assume responsibility, including the financial burden, for detainee’s health and safety. But the OCPD is now bristling at the suggestion that the city would be liable for the welfare of suspects it is no longer supervising.

“I’m not saying it’s rife down there [in Snow Hill], but let’s say somebody gets into a fight,” Colbert said. “If a person was injured at the jail, we shouldn’t be held responsible for that.”

The city has long chafed over the fact that resort taxpayers pay the full amount in county taxes, but do not use all the county’s services because some are provided locally by resort government.

“I guess … we can cross off the jail as a service they provide,” said Councilman and Police Commission member Dennis Dare.

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