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Ocean City police chief aims to help visitors find 'peace' at the beach

Law EnforcementBaltimore Police Department

Ocean City Police Chief Ross C. Buzzuro started on the job last July after spending more than 25 years with the Baltimore Police Department. A Baltimore native and Dulaney High School graduate, Buzzuro has been busy for the past year getting to know the community, settling in and putting his stamp on fighting crime in Ocean City.

The town has implemented some ideas from Baltimore's policing strategy, including more video surveillance, along with other initiatives led by Buzzuro, including a ban on the sale of assisted-opening knives and laser pointers, cracking down on drunken behavior and increasing fines for violations like public urination.

So, is it working? The results are not all in but Ocean City has had a relatively quiet summer with fewer high-profile disturbances and violent incidents like those seen in 2013.

"The folks that come to Ocean City, I think that they have basically one thing in mind and that's a degree of peace. They want to come here and they want to have a degree of peace," said Buzzuro. "Our job, our responsibility is to enable them to enjoy their stay and carry out [that] objective…to have their stay here with a degree of peace."

Here are five questions that Buzzuro answered during an interview in Ocean City earlier this month.

It's been a little over a year since you became chief, so what's been the biggest surprise and what's been the biggest challenge?

The biggest surprise is the overwhelming support for the police department from our residents and then quite honestly, our visitors, as well. I think that helping hand really makes us successful in what we do. That was surprising and welcome. The biggest challenge for us is we're the second largest city in terms of population, second to Baltimore, during the summer months. So about four months of the year our population swells to several hundred thousand and we have a considerably less police force than I'm accustomed to in Baltimore. So that dynamic of dealing with a swelled population with the amount of resources we have to handle day-to-day operations sometimes is daunting, but we are very dedicated. We get the job done.

In the beginning of this summer, an online study ranked Ocean City the most dangerous place in Maryland. How did the police department react to that?

Well, it's not a true and accurate depiction. That study is based on our resident population… based on a population of 7,000. And during the summer months, our population swells to upward of 300,000, so when you factor that in, it doesn't give a true representation of our crime issue. We're a very safe community. And I think that the public, in general, they understand that. It's unfortunate, but it's just not a true and accurate depiction of what's happening in Ocean City.

How are Ocean City and Baltimore alike and how are they different?

Ocean City is a resort town. Baltimore is a true urban environment. The issues here aren't the same as Baltimore. We just don't see the issues of urban blight as Baltimore would see. We do have our issues here but we don't have…whether it's gangs, drugs - those types of entrenched violence that are stubborn to Baltimore. But we have our issues here. They're just, they're minor in nature, generally speaking…We're not immune to the issues of drugs, just like anywhere else. But I think that with a very dedicated and capable police force, we're able to handle that and keep that under control.…[We see] alcohol-related violations, disorderly and disruptive behavior. We see petty theft issues. But we don't see the type of violence that I've seen throughout my law enforcement career in Baltimore.

What do you miss about Baltimore?

I miss the energy. Well, there's energy here. But I guess the vibrancy of the city of Baltimore, the diversity throughout the city and its neighborhoods and being a big sports town. I do miss being part of the big sports town that Baltimore is.

Ocean City is cracking down on profanity, knives, laser pointers and other issues. Is there a balance here between having more rules and letting people relax and have fun?

Let me just start by saying that at the end of the day, we're a family-oriented community. This is a resort community for families with a long tradition. I don't believe the rules that have been put in place are anything but positive in nature. They're all geared towards family enjoyment. Regarding specifically knives…and we're talking assisted-opening knife, which is very similar to a switchblade… there's really no need for that on the boardwalk.

We also prohibit laser pointers. The police department in any given year over the last several years, we would handle hundreds of calls for laser pointing. They were being directed in the eyes of aircraft pilots, unwitting persons, our employees of the town and in some cases, they caused injury. For us, we were focusing a lot of time and energy on these types of calls. With the prohibition, we can focus our energy in other areas as well as provide additional safeguards for the safety of our residents and visitors.

So there is a rhyme to the reason for these rules. The no profanity - that's just sending a message. It's all positive. It's all geared toward what the intention should be. And the intention should be peacefulness and enjoyment in a good nature. So the laws aren't Draconian … they're just geared towards a theme and that theme is a positive theme. Come here and enjoy yourself. Carry on but don't get carried away.

michelle.deal@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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