(May 23, 2014) City Council finalized three emergency measures this week, aimed at cracking down on allegedly dubious items being sold at Boardwalk stores.
As of this past Monday night, laser pointers and assisted-opening knives are forbidden for sale or possession in the resort, although an allowance exists for the former’s use for educational or instructional purposes.
The Ocean City Police Department will now also be able to cite offenders for refusing to provide their date of birth, expanding the city’s identification requirement which previously only mandated name and address to be given.
Although the knife issue was more threatening in appearance, it was the laser pointers that are likely the greatest disruption of public safety, with Mayor Rick Meehan citing the latest count by the OCPD of 970 calls regarding laser pointer harassment in the past three years.
“That’s almost a thousand times in three years that our officers could be addressing something else,” Meehan noted. “There are documented cases of these being shined in the eyes of tram drivers and even passing aircraft.”
The only objection heard from council on the public on the issue was from laser pointer wholesaler Jeff Morris, who said he supplies several stores on the Boardwalk.
Morris said that the policy passed by council some years ago – requiring safety notices to be posted prominently in stores and placed in shopping bags – has been effective in reducing the incidents. Morris himself also puts the notice inside the box of every pointer he distributes within the city limits.
“With that notice, I think the problems have been reduced considerably,” Morris said. “It would be a big loss to the merchants. If someone sells 1,500 of these in a season, at $20 a pop, that’s $30,000 in lost revenue for them.”
However, city officials lobbied that, despite any efforts on Morris’ part, the stores themselves are not following through.
“We know for a fact that it’s not being done,” said Councilman and Police Commission Chair Doug Cymek. “The ‘prominent location’ for some stores is the ceiling. They’ve had their chance.”
Assisted-opening knives will also be added to the list of martial arts weapons – including items such as nunchucks and throwing stars – that are prohibited for possession or transfer.
“An assisted-opening knife is similar to, but does not meet the definition of, a switchblade,” said City Solicitor Guy Ayres. “The police department is concerned that these are being sold in town, but do not meet the state’s definition of prohibition [for switchblades].”
Assisted opening knives are folding knives in which the user opens the knife by articulating a stud or spur attached to the blade. Once the blade is partially unfolded, a spring or tension mechanism releases the blade to full extension and locks it into position, making the knife easier to open with one hand.
This is marginally distinct from a switchblade, where a button on the handle of the knife causes it to open, without the user having to touch the blade itself.
However, many common types of pocketknives also feature assisted opening blades, which do have legitimate uses in outdoor and rescue work. The proposed ordinance contains exceptions for OCPD personnel as well as on-duty firemen and EMS providers.
Enforcement will likely be targeted at allegedly unscrupulous Boardwalk stores, and less toward law-abiding pocketknife carriers.
“These are clearly not made for whittling,” said Cymek, displaying one of the rather vicious-looking knifes purchased on the Boardwalk by OCPD officers. “There are three or four stores that are selling these…if this passes tonight, they will be removed very quickly.”
The number of weapons arrests in the resort in 2012 spiked to 112 from just 50 in 2011, and only 38 in 2007. Last year saw 109 arrests, 33 of them in June alone. Many of the knives sold on the Boardwalk are clearly intended as showpieces for unruly youth, police have said.
As part of the city’s code which qualifies for misdemeanor violations, penalties for assisted-opening knives and laser pointers can be up to $500 in fines or up to three months imprisonment.
The third ordinance passed as an emergency measure this week, requiring date of birth to be given when issuing a municipal citation, will make it easier for officers to identify offenders in out-of-state databases and follow up on unpaid fines.
Refusal to give proper identification carries a fine of $1,000 and/or 90 days’ imprisonment.