Wednesday, May 21 – OC Makes Open Container Change Official

OCEAN CITY – The second reading of the ordinance that will change open container violations from arrestable to non-arrestable offenses was passed 6-1 this week, but not without protest from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

“Every alcohol-related tragedy begins with an open container,” said MADD Program Specialist Nancy Rainer this week in a plea to the Mayor and City Council.

The ordinance change calls for open container violations to move from a criminal misdemeanor to a municipal infraction.

Currently, open container violations are issued at the discretion of police officers. Police can issue a citation for the offense or make an arrest. The new ordinance calls for police to no longer have the option to arrest. The offense would instead be punished with a $200 fine, $100 if paid within the first 48 hours.

The issue has been a contentious one, with strong opinions heard once again this week, as the City Council prepared to make its final vote.

“Ocean City is known as the East Coast’s number one, family resort. Ocean City is also known as the location of senior week or beach week,” Rainer said, questioning the affect that the ordinance change will have on the under-21 crowd. “What will happen if the open container violations are no longer an arrestable offense?”

Rainer reinforced what many other opponents have argued, pointing out open container arrests give police officers the tool to prevent later alcohol-related crimes and accidents.

“Taking the ability to make an arrest from a police officer, is like taking the hammer out of the carpenter’s tool box,” she said, requesting that the council reconsider making the change to a municipal infraction or at least raise the proposed fine from $200 to $1,000.

Councilman Jay Hancock, a former Ocean City police officer and strong supporter of the ordinance change, reinforced his reasons for voting for the move to a municipal infraction.

“I’ve been a supporter of MADD as along as I’ve been a part of the police department,” he said, noting his support for the group, but his disagreement with them on this particular issue.

“A lot of people who were arrested for the open container violations were also victims,” said Hancock, referring to the people arrested for open container for simply stepping onto the street with a cup of beer. “People were going to jail for no reason.”

Hancock also noted that many police officers abused the open container violation, using it instead as a reason to talk to a suspect and search them.

Council member Margaret Pillas opposed the ordinance change.

To read all the week’s news, see The Dispatch on Friday morning.