OCEAN CITY – Mayor Rick Meehan publically responded to concerns over ongoing outbursts of crime in Ocean City this summer at this week’s Mayor and Council meeting and was subsequently chastised for not taking a leading role in crafting a solution.
Throughout the course of this summer, Ocean City has been in the negative spotlight, including bank robberies, a beach brawl and a Boardwalk gang-related stabbing to a tragic hit-and run involving a child, a shooting and several off-Boardwalk stabbings.
Resident Rachel Fiorello, who has written several letters to Meehan, came before the council Monday to get a response from Meehan.
“At this time, as voters and permanent residents, we would like to know what actions you and the council are taking to address these problems,” she said.
Fiorello continued the problems of increased crime, menacing and threatening and an overall low standard of behaviors from certain tourists persist. Residents should not lower expectations and standards of how people should behave simply because they visit the Ocean City community during the summer.
“We live here all year-round. This is our home and we have a right to want to see it protected, preserved and cherished. Just because the town of Ocean City depends on tourism does not mean our citizenry must be victimized and intimidated by gangs, thugs, criminals and various undesirable inner city crowd who masquerade as tourists,” she said.
Fiorello pointed out that if the issues continue into the future Ocean City’s tourism and its revenue will tank. She has come across blogs on social media where she has found families choosing to vacation in neighboring resorts as safety in Ocean City’s becomes questionable.
“Mr. Mayor, people are looking for leadership on these matters. Sir, people are looking for political leadership in Ocean City, Md., to do the right thing. What is the right thing? Promote and provide public safety and restore Ocean City’s reputation as a safe, clean, pristine and exclusive family resort. So, mayor, we are urging you to please take aggressive actions to resolve our community’s problems,” Fiorello said.
Meehan took the opportunity to publically address ongoing concerns in Ocean City.
“This year was probably the worst I’ve seen as far as things we won’t expect or things we won’t anticipate to occur in Ocean City but they have. We can’t go back and change that clock but what we can do is be very aggressive. Being aggressive means planning for the future and making sure we are prepared moving forward to address those issues,” he said.
The mayor furthered Police Chief Ross Buzzuro, hired officially in late June, is in the process of coming up with an in-depth plan of action, and will work with the Mayor and City Council to address the incidents that have occurred.
“We want to make sure that it is known that we want people to come to Ocean City to enjoy Ocean City. If you are coming here for another reason please don’t come,” Meehan said.
The mayor highlighted a few actions that will be taken beginning with heightened intelligence in the types of people being drawn to Ocean City at all times and enhanced education and training of Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) officers to ensure consistent intelligence.
“He [Chief Buzzuro] is proposing a better use of technology to increase the presence of cameras along the Boardwalk and other areas, and even make those high definition cameras so they can be used for facial recognition. To make better use of license plate readers that we now have in some of our patrol cars, maybe we need to have those in permanent locations in the entrances of Ocean City, so that we know when the bad guys come or at least have a better idea,” the mayor said.
Meehan added OCPD is going to analyze its deployment and work with allied agencies, such as the Maryland State Police, Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, and surrounding municipalities to increase police presence in Ocean City.
“As we move forward with increased technology, surveillance and intel, that’s not going to be a secret, we want everyone to know that,” he said. “Those who are looking to cause trouble look for a weakness, they look for a weak place to come where they can get away with what they want to do, and we have to let them know if they come here they are not going to get away with it.”
Meehan responded to Fiorello that he too has read the negative comments on Ocean City.
“They are heart breaking but I also know in some of those blogs you only hear the bad things, and there are a lot of good things too,” he said. “Since June over 1.5 million people have visited and continued to come to Ocean City, and have enjoyed themselves while they are here. We need to make sure that they all go home with a good story about Ocean City.”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas questioned the mayor’s reference to a no tolerance policy.
“It seems like a very difficult process without some kind of leadership … when are we going to start enforcing the laws that we have on the books?” she asked. “I know the police are trying their best but for some reason it is not really working, and I think it has more to do with our [Mayor and City Council] leadership than what the police department is doing or not doing.”
Councilman Brent Ashley recalled recently having a private conversation with Meehan, questioning the mayor on what he personally intended to do about the situation, in which the mayor responded, “I am not going to thump my chest and say we are going to take the town back.”
“You can explain away the cameras and the police chief and everything else but everybody looks to you to be a leader,” Ashley said. “I look to you to be a leader, and that is why I came to you in private and said ‘please do something’, and you said you were not going to.”
Ashley continued to poke at the mayor in not taking a leading role to soothe Ocean City and its visitors. Meehan became frustrated with Ashley’s assertions and pointed out the number of people Ashley speaks to who only have negative comments is a small percentage compared to the millions of visitors who enjoy Ocean City during the summer season.
“You can always look for the wrong answers, and I hear it too but when I take the time to explain to people … most people realize that we are not ignoring the issues that cause problems in our community and we are here to address them,” he said.
Council President Lloyd Martin interjected Ashley has been the front man for spreading a negative image of Ocean City.
Martin reminded Ashley that officer initiated calls for service in June had decreased 4.4 percent over last year, citizen initiated call for service has decreased 11 percent, and the total number of calls for service decreased 6.3 percent.
“Brent, you have these numbers in front of you but you say what you say. We have 300,000 people here a weekend, and we are going to have people here that we don’t want here unfortunately … but we are doing our best,” Martin said. “You can always find the negative but we want to fix the negatives and move forward with the positives. Brent, you can be as negative as you want to be but I don’t want to hear any more of it.”