OCEAN CITY – Vandalism of the lifeguard stands on the beach at night or in the early morning hours has been going on as long as there have been stands on the beach, but the culprits have taken it to a whole different level this summer, prompting Ocean City Beach Patrol officials to appeal to the public to be their eyes and ears when they are not on duty.
For years, teens or young vandals have toppled over the stands at night or dragged them into the ocean, only to see them destroyed by the surf or float down several blocks and for years the Beach Patrol has pulled them back up or dragged them out of the water, repaired them and gone about their business. Lately, however, the abuse of the stands has reached new heights and a whole new level of commitment from the perpetrators.
For example, last week a group of culprits dragged five stands to the same area and proceeded to make a two-tier pyramid out of them with three on the bottom and two on the top. The stands weigh several hundred pounds each, making the accomplishment likely the work of several burly individuals.
“It was a Herculean feat,” said OCBP Captain Butch Arbin, who has seen more than his share of stand vandalism during his decades on the Beach Patrol. “These things weigh several hundred pounds and that would have taken a significant group of people to accomplish. On top of that, it happened about 50 yards from one of the busiest sections of the Boardwalk.”
Arbin said the types of abuse carried out this summer and in recent years goes far beyond the normal tipping over of stands or dragging them in the ocean that has occurred in years past. Instead, the vandalism has become more vicious and is often premeditated.
“In the last few years, we’ve seen an increase in the really elaborate attempts to mess with the stands,” he said. “We’re still seeing the typical pranks carried out by kids or intoxicated individuals out on the beach at night, but we’re also seeing more and more of the premeditated variety where the individuals are going out there in groups with the tools they need to carry out their plans.”
In another recent example, an apparent group of individuals dug a six-foot deep by eight-foot wide hole on the beach, dragged a stand into it, and then re-filled the hole, burying the stand. However, the perpetrators were not finished yet. They then gathered a bunch of the 55-gallon trashcans that line the beach, filled them with sand and placed them on top of the buried lifeguard stand.
Needless to say, it had to take several people hours to pull off the prank, and again, it happened in a highly populated area meaning somebody or several people had to witness the project. For that reason, Arbin said he has met recently with the OCPD to increase patrols on the beach at night and is now appealing to the public to report incidents of vandalism they see.
“When you’re walking the boards, or you’re out on the beach at night, or sitting on your balcony, and you see people vandalizing the stands, please report it to the police,” he said. “When we come out in the morning and find these incidents, it can take us hours to dig them out, or pull them down from pyramids, or drag them out of the ocean, and those are hours we should be spending watching the water.”
In the pyramid incident, for example, the SRTs had to carefully take down the stacked stands without damaging them or injuring themselves, which was no small feat. In the case of the buried stand covered with trash cans full of sand, it took several guards several hours to excavate the stand, only to find it unusable. When stands are dragged into the ocean, they typically wash down the beach several blocks and are usually rendered unusable because of the damage they sustain.
Many of the stands can be repaired, while others have to be replaced. In either case, it often takes a lot of manpower and money to get them back into place, according to Arbin. While it becomes a financial concern with thousands of dollars spent on repairing and replacing stands, more importantly it becomes a public safety issue.
“I’m less concerned with the monetary side of it then the safety issue,” he said. “Every hour we spend digging out stands or repairing them or replacing them is an hour our people aren’t out there doing what they’re supposed to be doing, which is watching the water and protecting the people.”
Other examples of vandalism are much more malicious. For example, it is not unusual for an SRT to come out and discover the leg of his or her stand has been sawed through to the point it will collapse when the guard sits on it. In other cases, people defecate on the seats of the stands or urinate on them. In other extreme examples, people have placed a cup of urine on top of the stands that spill on the guards when they drag their stands to the appropriate place on the beach.
“Can you imagine going to work and finding that someone has defecated in your chair?” he said. “It can ruin your whole day. Or imagine you arrive at work and find your chair has had its legs broken off or have been cut most of the way through so that it would collapse when you sit down.”