OCEAN CITY — Despite a significant increase in the size of the crowd, Memorial Day weekend 2014 was relatively calm from a crime standpoint, although the jury is still out on whether the trend will continue as the peak season continues.
According to the resort’s Demoflush statistics, an average of around 250,000 people were in Ocean City over the four-day holiday weekend, including a peak of 263,540 last Sunday. For lack of a better system, Ocean City for decades has used a formula related to water and sewer usage to determine crowd sizes. Last year, the peak Memorial Day crowd also occurred on Sunday with an estimated 241,870 in the resort.
While the number of visitors to the resort increased by about 20,000 this year compared to last, the level of crime in terms of calls for service and arrests actually went down or at least stayed level compared to the same weekend in 2013.
There were a total of 1,615 calls for service last weekend, the lowest total in the last five years for the holiday weekend. The most recent peak was 2012 with 1,945, but in the last five years the total has come in the 1,600-plus range. There were 812 police officer-initiated calls for service last weekend and 802 citizen-initiated calls.
In short, the crowd was much larger last weekend than last year, but the statistics show it was quiet on the crime front. It remains to be seen if the rather pleasant trend continues going forward, particularly with the arrival of June and a much-publicized unsanctioned “College Takeover Beach Week” next weekend, but for the moment, the OCPD is generally pleased with the start to the season.
“Memorial Day weekend drew nearly 250,000 people to Ocean City this year and with that, of course, came a dramatic increase in calls for service,” said OCPD spokesperson Lindsay O’Neal. “Thankfully though, we saw no major incidents during the holiday weekend. Our residents and visitors were able to enjoy a relatively safe start to the season.”
With the big crowds last weekend came the usual problems of traffic tie-ups, open container violations, drug arrests, assaults and other crimes associated with the summer season, but by and large it was comparatively quiet for a holiday weekend. O’Neal said a combination of factors likely contributed to the end result.
“The fact that our preliminary statistics are on par with last year, even though we had an increase in visitors, we think is due in large part to a mixture of the two things, a well-behaved crowd and strong police enforcement,” she said. “Our officers were being strict with their enforcement, as they always are, but we can’t have those types of statistics without the presence of a great crowd of residents and visitors.”
A look at the number of arrests over three days last weekend from Friday to Sunday illustrates the point. Overall, there were 108 arrests in Ocean City last weekend, including 23 for drugs, 10 DUIs, a relatively low total considering the OCPD broke out a special drunk-driving enforcement unit, and seven for weapons violations. There were 92 total arrests in 2013 and 136 in 2012, which was a five-year high.
Conspicuously absent in the report were accidents involving pedestrians and vehicles. There were no pedestrian-related incidents last weekend, despite the large crowds, a fact the OCPD contributes to an aggressive Walk Smart campaign.
In the wake of a continued spike in pedestrian-related incidents over the last several years including multiple fatalities, the town of Ocean City partnered in 2012 with the State Highway Administration and other agencies on an aggressive pedestrian safety campaign complete with additional signage, marked crosswalks, interactive signs, and public awareness materials in hotel rooms and practically everywhere else in the resort.
Again, with Senior Week arriving and the problems typically associated with that, the situation could change in a hurry, but for the most part, the campaign appears to be achieving the desired results.
“There were zero pedestrian accidents last weekend, so we feel certain the Walk Smart campaign is certainly paying off,” said O’Neal. “We saw a 40-percent decrease and zero fatalities in 2013 and we are hoping to have even better results this year.”
Last year, there were three significant pedestrian vehicle collisions within the span of about six days in Ocean City roughly around the Memorial Day weekend. With the progressive awareness campaign and all of the changes in place, the numbers waned throughout the rest of the summer. O’Neal said the success of the program is being emulated in other communities with pedestrian-vehicle issues.
“The program is growing across the state and into Delaware as well,” she said. “The University of Maryland-College Park just implemented a Walk Smart campaign and Sussex County is coming on board with our Walk Smart crab campaign this summer also. People see the great success that the campaign has had in Ocean City and want to bring it to their area, which is great.”