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Patrol cars converted for public safety aide duties

(June 12, 2015) Similar to what Seinfeld’s Newman taught us about certified versus registered mail, all police work is a matter of public safety, but not all public safety matters require police.

Residents and visitors may have noticed over the past week that a number of Ocean City Police Department cars now feature magnetic stickers that block out the word “police” and replace it to read “public safety.”

These vehicles are being used not by sworn police officers, but rather by the increased number of public safety aides the department has hired this year to compensate for a decline in qualified seasonal officers.

“Since we had a lower number of seasonal officers this year, we hired more PSAs, more than we traditionally have,” said OCPD Public Information Officer Lindsay Richard.

Public safety aides may be seen driving around to perform any number of OCPD duties that do not require the attention of a sworn officer.

For instance, Richard said, taking after-the-fact reports for malicious destruction of property can be done by personnel trained to take such reports, but who are not necessarily badge- and gun-carrying officers.

“There are a number of things that a sworn police officer doesn’t necessarily need to respond to,” Richard said.

The number of summer officers employed by the department this year is approximately 70, as opposed to the 100 or more in years past.

The reduction is because of the difficulty in finding officers who will pass the full gamut of testing required to become an officer in the State of Maryland, since the OCPD has gradually reformed its hiring standards for summer officers to bring them in line with the full requirements of the Maryland Police Service Training Commission.

Ocean City is unique in having a carve-out in the state’s police legislation, which creates requirements for summer officers that are outside of MPSTC control, and which are thus immune to any state-mandated updates in training and qualification standards.

The caveat to this is that Ocean City must hire at least 100 officers each year in order for the exemption to take effect.

This creates a tipping point, where if the OCPD wishes to update its standards for seasonal officers to the point where less than 100 officers qualify, it then must meet the full requirement of the MPSTC and cease to have a seasonal force, at least by the state’s definition, which thus tightens the requirements even further.

Earlier this year, the OCPD proposed that the city work with a consultant to look into throttling back the seasonal officer program. That study has not yet come up for discussion by the City Council, at least publicly.

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