(Oct. 18, 2013) If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Or at least supply them with trash cans.
Despite obvious dismay over the fact that the main event takes place outside of town – and is thus beyond the city’s control – the resort’s Police Commission discussed this week ways in which it can help crowd control related to the annual H2O International car show.
“I think we need to work with the owners who allow this event on their property, or host this event in some capacity, and make sure they’re prepared to do so,” Mayor Rick Meehan said.
“If we have to bring in additional resources, we should look into doing that, as we do for bike week,” said Ocean City Police Department Chief Ross Buzzuro.
Every year, in increasing numbers, Volkswagen and Audi enthusiasts flock to the resort during the last week of September to attend the H2O International – or H2Oi, as it is commonly abbreviated by patrons.
While the show itself takes place only on Saturday and Sunday, and is located several miles outside of town at the Fort Whaley Campgound, most attendees stay on the island and arrive several days early to hang out.
Further, third-party promoters not officially associated with the H2Oi frequently hold their own shows and get-togethers in town. Some locations are solicited by these promoters and allow them to hold their events, while other areas simply become impromptu meeting grounds whether the property owner is aware or not.
“Because they don’t have to get permits, we don’t know where they’re going to be, which I know is a problem for the police department,” Meehan said.
At least one business which hosted H2Oi spin-off events – the 45th Street Taphouse – cited a stronger weekend over the H2Oi than with BikeFest.
Many other restaurants and lodgings reported the same, although lower-price establishments tended to fare better than higher-end ones. Some of these saw a dip in business due to the noise and traffic hassle, it was noted.
“It became such a nuisance that there are kind of two factions over who wants it and who doesn’t,” Councilman Dennis Dare said.
“Some loved it and some hated it,” agreed Council President Lloyd Martin. “But they have to take responsibility for it.
If the city was able to know ahead of time where the congregation points would be, it could help property owners prepare with amenities such as crowd control barriers or – in particular – trash cans.
After noting where the cars were gathered on his way up Coastal Highway, Dare said that “when I came down in the morning…the amount of trash they left behind was just amazing. I don’t know how anybody could be so careless.”
“They obviously congregate in under-utilized or abandoned lots,” said OCPD Capt. Kevin Kirstein. “I think everyone in this room can go out and see properties and say ‘I bet they’ll gather here,’ and you’ll probably be right. I think we need to start doing that.”
Even if the city were able to identify ahead of time where H2Oi-related gatherings were happening, they may not have the ability to enforce trespassing or littering laws unless the property owners themselves complained.
“If [the owners] told us in advance that they don’t’ want these guys drinking and hanging out on their property, and we put up notices to that effect…it would give us more authority to chase people out even if management isn’t there,” said OCPD Capt. Mike Colbert.
But even if not prepared for the refuse or congregation problem, the city lost no ground in traffic enforcement. According to OCPD data, officers conducted 1,245 traffic stops from Thursday, Sept. 26 to Sunday, Sept. 29.
This is 62.5 percent more traffic enforcement than the 766 stops done over the same span in 2012.
By comparison, the Spring Cruisin’ and OC BikeFest events netted 867 and 825 stops this year, respectively. Prior to 2012, data shows that Cruisin’ netted far more stops than either BikeFest or the H2Oi.
“We need to be prepared and start treating this like we treat the other events on this list,” Meehan said.
Total service calls over the Thursday-Sunday of the H2Oi came to 2,207, versus 1,658 last year, a 33 percent increase over last year. However, the vast majority of these calls, 1,786 in total, were officer-initiated. Citizen complaints accounted for 421 calls, a modest increase over the 361 during the same span in 2012.
But this number is not out of line with any other busy weekend. For instance, the Thursday-through-Sunday span before Labor Day, Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, 2013, saw 506 citizen calls.
The total number of arrests during the H2Oi this year was 53, versus 51 for BikeFest and 25 for Cruisin’. This is a decrease from last year, which saw 78, 52, and 65 arrests for the three events, respectively.
Notably, the H2Oi period had less than half the number of DUIs – seven – as BikeFest, which saw 18.
The organizer of the H2Oi show itself, Jay Shoup, has been amenable to helping the town even though he is not responsible for what goes on outside Fort Whaley, police noted. Via social media and the event’s website, Shoup is able to convey messages from the town to the event’s attendees.
“Were in constant contact with him and he’s working with us,” said Lt. Scott Harner, noting that ideas have been floated for privately-organized clean-up teams and other solutions.
The fundamental issue, however, is that H2Oi visitors in the resort are constantly on the move, given that there is no single event in town that draws them but rather the prospect of driving around and being seen on “the strip.”
“I had to explain to a number of people that we don’t really have a ‘strip,’” Meehan said. “We basically have one road that serves all the commercial and residential properties, which makes it difficult.”
Still, Meehan said, he had received a number of calls and emails from H2Oi enthusiasts letting him know of potential problem areas and asking how they could help to mitigate the impact of those who were being disruptive.