Wednesday, April 30 – OC Open Container Law Changed

OCEAN CITY – Open container violations will no longer be an arrestable offense in the resort town, after the City Council voted six to one this week to move forward with the proposal to change the offense to a non-arrestable, municipal infraction.

For years, local government officials have gone back and forth over the open container issue, weighing the pros and cons of changing open container violations from a criminal misdemeanor to a municipal infraction. A decision was finally made this week however, with the City Council voting six to one to change the offense to a municipal infraction with a $200 fine, $100 if paid within 48 hours. More importantly, open container violations will no longer be deemed an arrestable offense.

In 2003, open container arrests peaked at 1,004, with 410 of those arrests made on individuals over the age of 21 and 594 arrests of the under 21 crowd. Officials dealt with the increasing arrests by addressing the issue at the police level and emphasizing officer discretion. Measures were taken to decrease those numbers, specifically at the training level, with new police officers being told to use discretion when dealing with open container violations.

In 2007, 444 arrests were made for open container violations, 113 of those arrests were made on those over 21. Despite a decrease in numbers, many officials felt the numbers were not enough, questioning whether the offense should be changed to a municipal infraction.

“I think it’s overdue, it needs to be done, and it will benefit the community,” said Councilman Jay Hancock, making a motion to move forward with the change.

“I’m not in favor of changing this. I haven’t heard any proof that this is a good idea,” said Council member Margaret Pillas.

Pillas referred to letters from both the states attorney and Police Chief DiPino that voiced opposition to the change.

Pillas also argued that open container arrests don’t keep officers off of the streets for more than an hour and that the arrests keep the streets safe.

Hancock questioned how police officers have the clairvoyance to know that an open container arrest will prevent a crime later in the night.

Pillas argued that the officers’ discretion over arrests has had an affect over the past few years. “In the last two years, there’s been some decline in arrests,” she said,

The council voted six in favor, with Council member Pillas in opposition, to move forward with the proposal and to change the law to a municipal infraction, carrying a fine of $200 with a $100 discount if paid within 48 hours.

For the full story and all the week’s news, see The Dispatch on Friday.