(Sept. 1, 2022) The Ocean Pines Board of Directors recently voted unanimously to buy three new vehicles for $158,000 that will jump-start a “take-home vehicle” program for police in the community.
Police Chief Leo Ehrisman said three Chevy Tahoes became available when a police agency in Virginia ordered 50, but was only able to pay for 47 because of budgetary constraints.
He had hoped to request three new vehicles during the next budget cycle.
Ehrisman said a line of police agencies is vying for new vehicles and supplies are often too short for the demand, adding that the manufacturer said the SUVs were not available the last two times he tried to bid.
“The reason that I requested this special meeting … is because if I don’t do it now, I start back at ground zero in September to prepare for February’s approval of the budget,” Ehrisman said.
“It’s a very extensive period of time, and the fact that we only order two or three at a time puts us at the bottom of the list,” he said.
There may also be a cost savings, as Ehrisman said the vehicles were already outfitted with about $9,000 in police lights and computer equipment that are the standard for modern police cars.
“The prices that we have now on these three cars are fully equipped [and] ready to go,” he said.
Ehrisman said the Tahoes would help jump-start a take-home vehicle program that’s essential for police retention. He said Ocean Pines lost four officers in less than six months to neighboring agencies that offered signing bonuses and better benefits.
“They have take-home cars, they have insurance policies, and they have a pension,” he said.
Ehrisman said take-home cars help off-duty officers respond more quickly in case of an emergency, and they can deter crime by being visible in a neighborhood.
He said county police are getting about five-to-six years on take-home cars, which is longer than shared vehicles that can see three shifts each day.
“The issue today is the cost, the opportunity, and the timing …. does it have to be done today? My opinion is ‘yes,’” Ehrisman said. “If this passes … it fulfills my obligation to be able to implement” the take-home policy.
“There’s not a police agency I’m aware of that does not offer a take-home policy … so this is huge for us,” he added.
General Manager John Viola said the money for the purchase would come out of replacement reserves and would help spread out mileage and extend the life of other vehicles in the police fleet.
Asked by Director Doug Parks what impact the purchase would have on the overall reserve percentage, Viola said it would only be a fractional impact.
“It shouldn’t move the needle from where we’re at,” Viola said.
Director Rick Farr asked why the purchase wasn’t part of the last budget, and Ehrisman said there were two reasons.
One, he budgeted conservatively because of looming state mandates requiring body cameras for police, and two, many other agencies “upped their game” last December and January with offers of bonuses and take-home cars.
Asked about the disparities between Ocean Pines Police and other agencies, Viola said Ocean Pines officers receive 401k benefits and he has been working to close the gap in pay between neighboring agencies.
The association does not qualify for the federal Law Enforcement Officers’ Pension System, also known as LEOPS, because it is not a municipality.
Director Stuart Lakernick called for the board to make “an actual commitment that we will do better by our police department” in the future.
“The car is one aspect, but the pay is the big aspect,” he said. “You want a career cop, make a career commitment to them.”
Association President Colette Horn said that would likely be part of the next budget process.
“I think we all agree that retention and recruitment is a huge challenge, and this board has an opportunity to impact that,” she said.
Board members voted 6-0 in favor of a motion to purchase the vehicles. One Board member, Frank Daly, was not present.
To view a video of the meeting, visit https://youtu.be/8b-TZ2ThSzE.