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Ocean City

City looks to bolster ban on beach booze through campaign

(Aug. 9, 2013) As somewhat of a corollary to this week’s heated debate over crime and what to do about it, the city will be ramping up its efforts to let visitors know that they can’t bring booze on the beach.

Actually stopping them from doing so, however, would appear to be a different matter.

Councilman Brent Ashley suggested that the town make a concerted effort to publicize the fact that alcohol is not allowed on public beaches  — a policy Ashley said is meeting particular difficulty this year and is evidence, in his opinion, of the declining standard of behavior in the resort.

“From a public safety perspective, and in order to maintain a family-friendly atmosphere and return more decency to our beach,” Ashley said, “I would suggest we begin a public awareness campaign to inform all visitors that we have a zero tolerance policy towards alcohol or public intoxication on the beach.”

Signs indicating the ban on alcohol in the sand are found on the backs of the Ocean City Beach Patrol’s guard stands, as well as on the city ordinance notices that are placed intermittently on the Boardwalk. Ashley suggested that an active campaign through other media, however, could help take care of the issue before visitors even get to the beach.

He also suggested that city businesses that sell alcohol be offered signs to post in their establishments, reminding visitors about the alcohol policy.

Ashley relayed a recent incident in which he saw several men packing a cooler with beer in a local supermarket parking lot. In conversation with them, they revealed that they were going to the beach in Ocean City.

When Ashley asked if they were aware that drinking on the beach was prohibited, they responded that they had seen the signs the first day they went to the beach, but simply hid the bottles in the sand and planned to continue to do so.

“I think we need to step up our efforts,” Ashley said. “The beach patrol shouldn’t have to be out there watching for people with alcohol, they should be watching people in the water.”

Beach drinking is not a new or sudden problem, said OCBP Captain Butch Arbin.

“For all 41 years I’ve been here, drinking’s been banned on the beach, and for all 41 years it’s been an issue,” Arbin said. “It’s been one of the biggest games adults like to play, which is ‘hide the alcohol from the 18-year-old lifeguard.’”

Arbin recently spoke with the Ocean City Police Department about increasing patrols at the inlet beach, where alcohol enforcement seems to be more of an issue.

“In most cases, they don’t cause a problem to us,” Arbin said of beach drinkers. “But if you don’t enforce it, you get larger and larger groups of people doing it and its starts to get out of control.”

Although the OCBP does not track it specifically, alcohol is definitely a factor in guards’ rescue workload.

“We know that many of the more serious things that happen, especially at night when we’re not on duty, are almost always alcohol-related,” Arbin said. “Some of the more serious neck and head injuries we’ve had are people running and diving into two inches of water – you just don’t have the same inhibitions when you’ve been drinking.”

Although not overly enthusiastic, Ashley’s colleagues seemed to agree that such a campaign couldn’t hurt. Mayor Rick Meehan compared the idea to the Walk Smart campaign, coordinated between the city and the State Highway Administration, to encourage traffic safety awareness and the use of crosswalks on Coastal Highway.

That campaign also features a heavy outside media presence, as well as promotional items given to local bars to remind patrons about the danger of mixing alcohol and jaywalking.

“I think the SHA faced a similar issue there, too,” Meehan said. “We didn’t’ stop everybody from crossing mid-block, but we stopped a lot of them.”

“It’s not just on the beach,” said Councilwoman Margaret Pillas. “People are drinking on the sidewalks and the streets, too.”

Council voted unanimously, with Council Secretary Mary Knight absent, to go ahead with developing a campaign.

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