(July 25, 2014) The city’s Police Commission took a serious look last week at placing a greater onus on business owners who tacitly permit the bad behavior characteristic of many of the resort’s automotive events.
The commission hosted Bob Rothermel and Jack Hennen, organizers of the Cruisin’ OC car shows, to discuss potential fixes to the illicit activity has sprung up around the events, but which is otherwise outside of the promoters’ control.
“As far as the actual events, they went fine,” Hennen said. “The inlet and the convention center went well, but what we noticed was the amount of extracurricular activities.”
“This is a problem of success, luckily,” Rothermel said, “of going from a participant-based event to a spectator event.”
Critically, Cruisin’ OC already has a myriad of ways to control those cars and drivers who are appearing in the actual shows at the inlet and convention center, including pulling their show registration for egregiously bad behavior.
However, the event weekend increasingly draws a number of other automotive enthusiasts who are not participating in the show, but gathering on streets and in parking lots where they often drink, harass other motorists, and leave copious amounts of trash.
“I can’t remember the last time we actually had to call you and have you pull a participant’s tag,” said Ocean City Police Department Captain Kevin Kirstein. “The issues are with the observers.”
Specifically, and for reasons unclear, the event has become a magnet for diesel pickup truck enthusiasts. Many of these trucks have abnormally high suspensions, as well as smokestack exhausts with valves that allow the driver to inject un-burnt fuel into the emission, creating a thick cloud of black smoke.
“The ‘big pickup’ crowd has nothing to do with the actual event, but they’re as welcome in Ocean City as everyone else,” said Mayor Rick Meehan.
The key, he said, was to exert better controls at the sites where such spectators gather.
“We’ve had some specific places in town that have caused problems, and that wasn’t a factor 25 years ago [when Cruisin’ started],” Meehan said.
However, OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro said that a recent meeting with the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association garnered a tepid response to some of the measures he had proposed.
“”There’s a real reluctance to police the property in a way that we feel would be necessary,” Buzzuro said.
Two measures were proposed, he said, that would allow the OCPD to regulate the number of persons entering a private parking lot just to congregate, and allow the department to enforce open container laws in private lots as well.
“I think there was apprehension from the board members that this would start to be enforced for every event and not just for the car events that are known to be a problem,” said HMRA Executive Director Susan Jones.
Further, Jones noted, many of the major “problem properties” during car and motorcycle events are not HMRA members and would likely be un-phased by directive passed down by the association or the OCPD.
The problem with the department’s regular traffic enforcement, Buzzuro said, is that any violations on out-of-state driver’s licenses do not incur points and the threat of license suspension.
“If you have money in your pocket to pay the fine, there’s basically no fear of reprisal for people outside of Maryland,” Buzzuro said.
Many visitors build in a budget for traffic violations. Often, the spectators who encouraged them to do burnouts or drag races will offer to pay their fines just to encourage a show.
“I was sitting in my unmarked car writing the ticket, and before I even get out people are throwing money at this guy to pay his fine,” Kirstein said.
What would really be needed is private security that could force people to leave the property – but the city has no power to force owners to hire security. Many already try to make accommodations the best they can, by putting out extra trash cans and roping off areas. These are typically disregarded.
“I saw a photo, for instance of a lot at 28th Street where the owner had put out trash cans,” said Commission Chair Doug Cymek. “At the end of the weekend, the trash cans were empty, but the parking lot was covered in beer bottles.”
According to OCPD data, officers issued a total of 721 traffic warnings and citations from Thursday, May 16, to Sunday, May 19. Over the same Thursday-Sunday span of Cruisin’ in 2013, 980 enforcement actions were made.
However, total arrests were up from 25 last year to 50 this year, including 12 DUIs versus six last year.