Ocean View amends police vehicle policy

In the past, police officers in Ocean View have been able to take their vehicles home, even during shifts when they didn’t work. Now, a new policy passed by town council only allows the officers to take the police cars home during the nights and days when the officers have worked.

The new policy was passed 4-1, with only Councilman Bill Wichmann in opposition.

Despite its passage, Councilman Roy Thomas admitted the new policy isn’t perfect, so he asked the police department to continue to work with it and see if there is a better way.

Under the new policy, officers will not be able to use the police vehicles for personal use or during hours after their tour of duty ends, said Thomas. An exception was made for a sergeant because he may have to respond during off-duty hours.

The new policy was created in an attempt to save the town money on gas and wear-and-tear on police vehicles, but there are still many questions about how the policy will affect the work of the police department.

Wichmann, who is also a member of the Citizen Auxiliary Patrol (CAP) that aids the police, said the old policy was working well. Now that the new policy is being enacted, he said, it’s like the town is taking away a privilege, which Wichmann says is not good for morale.

“Each officer has their own car,” said Wichmann. “When they get off, they can take their car home and then they are available if additional help is needed.”

Each Ocean View officer works four 12-hour shifts, then has four 12-hour shifts off. Wichmann said that, in an emergency, he wants the officer that has been on the off-shift to be available. But if that officer only has his/her personal car at home, then it makes it hard to communicate.

“Having the police car at home means the whole time the officer is driving to the scene, they are on the radio and know what to expect,” said Wichmann. “Each officer knows his own car and the kind of equipment in it. They take pride in the vehicle.”

Some of the officers in the Ocean View department live in Bethany Beach, Ocean View and Clarksville, and the most remote lives in Georgetown. Wichmann said these distances are not very far for a one-way trip, reducing the take-home policy’s impact on the cars and the police budget.

Councilman Perry Mitchell said he sees nothing wrong with the new policy because it hasn’t changed too much from the existing one.

“It’s a slight modification,” said Mitchell. “The new policy is very close to the policy in Bethany Beach and similar to other departments across the country because of rising gas costs.”

Town Manager Conway Gregory also uses a town vehicle as his personal car. Gregory lives in Denton, Md., which some residents have said is also a concern if the town is trying to save money.

Additionally, supporters of the former policy objected to the notion of potentially stranding officers at home, since many of the officers only have one car in their household.

“I just think it’s a very bad move,” said Wichmann. “It will jeopardize the ability of the department to perform.”