Police checking vacant properties as part of new program

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OCEAN CITY — Looking to take a proactive approach to preventing crime rather than solving a crime after it has occurred, the Ocean City Police Department instituted the “Safe and Secure Program.” Officers on routine patrols through neighborhoods that largely consist of seasonal vacation homes don’t simply perform a “drive-by” check.

“They park the police car, get out and make sure nothing is amiss,” Capt. Steve Ang said.

Over the past several weeks, the Ocean City Police Department has checked over 1,500 empty properties; officers have found nearly 25 residences that were insecure for “various reasons not related to criminal activity,” according to Ang.

The property’s owner may have been down for the weekend, or come down to check on the property and mistakenly left the property unsecured. If the property is a rental, it may be that a Realtor showed the property and simply left the door unlocked, Ang said.

“In the past several years, we’ve had a large influx of burglaries during the off-season, and they were not reported until the spring,” Ang said. “So when we investigated each property, we knew it was burglarized sometime between November and March. We could not narrow it down more than that. We had numerous incidents of plasma televisions being stolen.”

When the crime goes undetected for several months, Ang said it becomes a “cold case” and is very difficult to solve.

“There’s not much we can do when the property hasn’t been checked for so long,” he said.

The property checks serve many purposes, he said.

“Officers have found other problems, not of a criminal nature,” Ang said. “They have discovered water leaks, damage due to wind in a storm, damage to awnings and siding that would have gotten worse had the issue not been noticed. In these instances, we let the property owner know there was a problem. One time, we found packages that had been delivered to a vacant residence. The packages were returned to the post office for safe keeping until the property owner could be contacted.

“If the officer finds nothing wrong, they leave a card letting the property owner know that on such and such a date the property was checked and everything was found to be OK. This provides a timeline, if anything does happen after that, we can narrow it down.

“Periodic checks help our investigations,” Ang said. “The longer a crime goes undetected, the harder it is to solve. Time is always of the essence when it comes to solving crimes.”

Most of the property checks are done during the evening and early-morning hours.

“During the daytime the officers are busier,” he said.

Officers on the street, he said, also serve as a deterrent to crime.

“The officer may drive by two or three times in a particular area during the nighttime, why not get out and check the properties?” he asked.

“We’ve always done this in the business district, along Asbury Avenue, on the boardwalk and on 34th Street,” said Ang.

Officers, he said, check to make sure doors are locked and buildings secure. Ang said over time, officers will develop a familiarity with each neighborhood and individual homes, making it more likely they will notice something out of order in the neighborhood.

“If there is ever an emergency, they might remember something about the property,” he said. “The officers will have a hands-on knowledge of the properties.”

This program does not take the officer away from their other duties, Ang said.

“In getting out of the car and physically checking the property, being more observant, this is a great program,” he said. “This is all positive, there is nothing negative.

“The program costs nothing extra and it helps officers use time more efficiently. It makes sense to do this and discover a problem, whether it’s criminal activity or something else.”

Ang said the OCPD has not seen the crime wave with plasma televisions as in past years, but they do not take it for granted that it could happen. He said the program would continue for at least another month or more.

“We’ll continue this until people start coming down on a regular basis,” Ang said.

“The police department has received a lot of positive feedback about the program,” he said. “When people come down and see the card that we have been there, and personally checked the property they’re very grateful.”

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