Ocean City Boardwalk Safety Initiatives Discussed

OCEAN CITY – Department heads returned this week to City Hall with responses to suggestions made a few months ago on ways to increase safety on the Boardwalk.

In December, Boardwalk property owner Jerry Greenspan briefed City Council members on safety concerns on the Boardwalk. A meeting had been held previously where a number of Boardwalk property owners gathered to discuss Boardwalk safety and came up with a few suggestions.

The suggestions made included improving the lighting on the full length of the Boardwalk; increasing police presence on the Boardwalk visually by changing to a light colored shirt; designing a podium or stand for the police to be stationed at every three blocks; increasing the amount of uniformed police officers on the Boardwalk; and installing visible surveillance cameras on and adjacent to the Boardwalk so that possible violators will know they are being watched.

Although City Engineer Terry McGean was not present for the discussion this week, he submitted information regarding the improvement of lighting on the Boardwalk.

Following lighting trials conducted by the Public Works Department, he recommended the replacement of all bulbs and capacitors, which could be phased into the current Boardwalk renovation project to re-establish design light levels lost over time.

Also, he recommended installing additional lights in the area of concern, 4th to 15th streets, specifically targeting those areas with more commercial activity. This can be done as part of the Phase 2 Boardwalk renovation project planned for next fall. McGean said these actions should restore light levels throughout the Boardwalk and enhance levels where needed.

Next, Police Chief Bernadette DiPino addressed the request to increase police presence by changing the color of officer uniforms.

“When I took over as chief over nine years ago, one of the priorities for our police department was high visibility,” she said. “We believe that it does make people feel safer, it also acts as a deterrent to crime, and it is also helpful for people who need a police officer.”

DiPino explained that the uniform is under contract with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), who was scheduled to discuss the matter in a meeting that day.

The chief furthered that if the department were to switch to a high-visibility shirt like what the bike patrol wear, the cost difference would be significant. High visibility shirts cost $89 per shirt, and each officer is issued a minimum of four shirts. Last year 69 officers and nine first-line supervisors were assigned to the Boardwalk area. To replace their uniforms with the high visibility shirt would cost in excess of $27,000, which has not been budgeted or budgeted into the future.

DiPino said the department is attempting to contact personnel at Virginia State Police to determine exactly how or why they use police stands, or podiums, at their State Fair and if they are an effective law enforcement tool.

“They felt that it was successful so we are contacting them to find out what do they mean by successful … I think we need a little bit more research into this,” she said as she listed questions such as what would be the appropriate location for a police officer to be stationed on the Boardwalk.

DiPino moved on to address the suggestion made to increase the amount of uniformed police officers on the Boardwalk.

“We really don’t like to talk strategy but I can tell all the criminals out there, there are a lot of police officers out there [boardwalk],” she said. “You may never know where they are but we do man our Boardwalk with a high percentage of our police officers.”

DiPino said that if the police department were to take any more manpower from the north end of town it would result in an unfair distribution of police officers.

She added that the plain clothes unit, or undercover officers, accounted for 27.8% of the arrests made in the Boardwalk area and that the mounted unit is on duty seven days a week during the summer months and the majority of the unit’s on-duty time is spent in or on the Boardwalk.

The last item DiPino addressed was the use of cameras on the Boardwalk.

“Cameras on the Boardwalk definitely work in conjunction with police strategy,” she said.

According to DiPino, the city currently has eight cameras installed on the Boardwalk and offered a suggestion to mount signs indicating the cameras are in use.

“Our suggestion was to possibly put signs up letting people know that we have cameras because that in itself could act as a deterrent,” she said.

In conclusion, DiPino offered a strategy of having uniformed police officers stop periodically at street ends to serve as a visual of safety as well as answer questions and provide information.

Greenspan hoped his proposed podium would still be up for consideration.

“I hope we can still consider doing a podium if we still have time,” Greenspan said. “I think it is something that is worthwhile to attempt to try maybe even one or two of them on the south end, and I just feel that is my biggest concern and a lot of the vacationers that I have spoken to is the visibility and easy access to officers, which would make them feel much more comfortable especially at night.”

Council President Jim Hall agreed. He said that police offers standing at street ends may not be visible enough.

“Visibility is the key and if the officers will agree to it, a different colored hat or a different colored shirt, that will help a lot for visibility,” he said. “You should try just one stand even if they went there and just stood for 15 minutes out of an hour.”

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas furthered that it is too often that parents are separated from their children.

“It would be so nice to say that there is always a police officer stationed on Division Street … just so you know there is a police officer you can get a hold of every minute of the night,” she said. “That is the comfort they are looking for.”

Jim Hall asked for DiPino to return within a couple of weeks with information gathered from the Virginia State Police in moving forward with a police stand on the Boardwalk.