Thursday, March 27 – Officials Eye Open Container Law Change

OCEAN CITY – After numerous discussions over the current open container laws, the Ocean City Police Commission agreed this week to support the change of open container violations from arrestable to non-arrestable offenses.

The consideration to change the open container law from a criminal misdemeanor to a municipal infraction has been circulating for years. Under the town code, it is unlawful to possess or consume alcoholic beverages “on any public street, highway, alley, sidewalk, parking lot, boardwalk, or public beach” within the town limits.

The commission agreed this week to make the change to a municipal infraction, which would carry a fine of $200, $100 if paid within 48 hours. Violators would also not be required to appear in court unless they wished to object to the citation.

“It doesn’t create the burden of a criminal history,” said Councilman Jay Hancock, a retired member of the Ocean City Police Department.

In 2007, 444 arrests were made for open container violations with an additional 248 citations given for the offense. Captain Mike Colbert pointed out that of the 444 arrests, 75 percent were under the age of 21. Currently, an open container violation is the only arrestable offense for underage drinking. A minor in possession of alcohol is not an arrestable offense in Ocean City.

Colbert and DiPino pointed out the significant decrease in arrests for open container violations since 2003. From 2003 to 2005, the OCPD averaged 950 arrests per year for open container violations. In 2006 and 2007, the average dropped to 362 arrests per year for the offense.

“We believe this is going to save lives,” said DiPino, pointing out the leverage it gives officers with underage drinking as well as the potential crimes that are prevented by getting intoxicated people off of the streets. “We just ask for another year of statistics.”

Councilman Jim Hall suggested that the change to a municipal infraction be made this year.

“It takes an officer off the street for three hours, dealing with a kid with an open container,” said Hall, pointing out the amount of man-hours that are spent.

The commission voted to send a favorable recommendation to the City Council to make the change to a municipal infraction, recommending a $200 fine for the offense, $100 if paid within 48 hours. The council is expected to address the issue in the near future.

For the full story, see The Dispatch tomorrow morning.