Council Should Settle Open Container Debate

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The Ocean City Mayor and Council tabled a discussion this week on decriminalizing the town’s open container policy, but it’s our hopes it was simply a delaying of the inevitable.

The decision to postpone talks was understandable, since two council members and the mayor were absent as well as the chief of the town’s police department.

The entire council needs to be briefed on what has been discussed by the town’s Police Commission in recent months, but we would hope the council makes a decision soon after and gets the change on the books before the summer. After all, as Councilman Jim Hall said recently, this discussion has been ongoing for more than 20 years.

The town needs to decriminalize the open container violation. If you are walking on public property in Ocean City with an open beer or mixed drink, you are in violation of the town’s open container law and will most likely be charged with a criminal misdemeanor. You could also get a warning if the cop buys your story or even be arrested. It’s up to the individual officer’s discretion to handle the matter as he or she sees fit.

Proponents of the current open container policy contend police’s ability to be proactive on lesser crimes prevents further crimes typically a result of alcohol abuse. Additionally, it’s believed open container arrests often lead to other charges, such as underage drinking and narcotics. The city’s policy is one example that when combined cumulatively with other measures makes Ocean City a safe place to live and visit, supporters say.

Opponents acknowledge there should be a penalty for violating the town’s open container law but they believe it should be decriminalized, removing the possibility of arrest and making it a simple municipal infraction. It should not fall under officer discretion. They say the pure number of open container violations take highly-skilled police officers off the streets for an extended period of time when they should be out maintaining peace and food order.

Research shows eight of 10 resort destinations surveyed currently share Ocean City’s policy on open container violations. In three of those resorts, it’s a criminal misdemeanor with the maximum penalty set as a fine. In this case, this is one situation we believe Ocean City should break away from the pack.

We believe all open container violators should receive a simple municipal citation and make it payable by a fine. Our view is officer discretion needs to be removed from this policy. There is no need to make it a mandatory court appearance for both the defendant and the arresting officer. It’s a waste of police and court resources, which are far too valuable to be using on these minor offenses. The time is now to change this law, and we hope the council makes the move in time for the upcoming summer season.

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