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Tension over crime continues after ‘pants law’ spat

(July 19, 2013) Despite the apparent political death last week of Councilman Brent Ashley’s so-called “saggy pants ordinance,” tension over the resort’s crime and social environment continued at Monday night’s meeting.

“There’s still this intimidation going on … people are emailing us and saying, ‘This is what I saw on 8th Street or 12th Street or on the Boardwalk in front of my hotel,’ and they’re not happy about it,” Councilwoman Margaret Pillas said.

Four weeks ago, Ashley requested that a decency policy for the Boardwalk be discussed at this week’s council session, following the recent passage of a similar policy in the resort town of Wildwood, N.J.

Wildwood, Ashley said, was banishing droopy trousers in an effort to clean up the public image and the allegedly deteriorating family environment of its own boardwalk — something Ashley said he had similar concerns about in Ocean City given the number of citizen complaints and high-profile crimes in June.

However, last week’s council agenda did not feature such a discussion, with Council President Lloyd Martin stating that he had pulled it from the schedule because Councilman Joe Mitrecic was not able to attend the meeting and there was still more information to be gathered on the issue.

But Ashley clearly believed that the discussion was simply being avoided because the topic was politically unsavory. His opposition, however, clearly questioned if there was an identifiable problem to be had, or whether Ashley was using anecdotal evidence to blow smoke at his colleagues.

“I would like to see if we could get, for the last three years, crime statistics or a number of incidents or arrests on the Boardwalk, just to see what the true story is,” Council Secretary Mary Knight said this week.

Knight also countered Ashley’s recent claim that the city’s marketing efforts are too oriented toward metro areas, noting that TV broadcasts are indiscriminate and not selective between what may be more or less desirable demographics.

“There’s a misconception here that we might not be advertising in the right places,” Knight said. “That’s kind of impossible to do. The shows themselves that we’re advertising on are very wholesome and family-oriented.”

By the same token, Ashley also called into question this week the veracity of the claim, made at last week’s Police Commission meeting, that a 6.3 percent reduction in calls for police service this June over last June was a positive direction.

“It seems to me that if the visitorship is down 10 percent, the calls should be down 10 percent,” Ashley said, citing the 5-10 percent average drops seen so far this year in the resort’s demoflush, tax, and hotel occupancy numbers.

“The calls or service are not necessarily indicative of the environment,” Ashley added. “This is what I’ve been saying – it’s the perception visitors have of us.

“Some of these visitors [who contact the council] are really angry, and I think the community doesn’t necessarily see that and it makes it seem like we’re trying to make something that’s not there, but it is.”

Historically, the month of June has always taken up the lion’s share of work for the OCPD, even though July and August have consistently higher demoflush numbers, which estimate the town’s population based on wastewater flow.

Much of this work increase, however, involves drug infractions. The Ocean City Police Department made 505 drug arrests in June 2012, according to its year-end report, almost as many as in July and August combined.

But June also has a higher concentration of crimes against persons. Unified Crime Report numbers for the last 15 years, issued at last week’s Police Commission meeting, show that June has been the peak month for assaults since 2003, when it surpassed July.

With 251 incidents, last June comprised 25.7 percent of all the assaults committed in the entirety of 2012.

Although 2012 assaults on OCPD officers were down to 46 in 2012 – from 100 in 2007 – the remaining incidents have concentrated in June. Last year, 16 officers were assaulted in that month, compared to five in July and six in August.

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