Cops Say Discretion Key With Open Container Law Change

OCEAN CITY — After Ocean City officials last month passed an ordinance changing the town’s open container law back to a misdemeanor, Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) officers have made some arrests, but they are reportedly exercising some discretion depending on the circumstances.

The Mayor and Council approved an ordinance making an open container violation an arrestable offense, but thus far, police have not been overzealous with arrests, according to OCPD officials.

Police made eight open container arrests in the first week since the ordinance change, although there have been opportunities for hundreds more.

For decades, an open container violation was an arrestable offense in Ocean City and hundreds, if not thousands, of vacationers found themselves with a court date often months later. Four years ago, town officials changed the open container law to a citation offense with a ticket issued and a fine imposed. However, the Mayor and Council last month approved an ordinance returning an open container violation to a misdemeanor that can result in an arrest with discretion afforded to the officers.

As of last week, Ocean City Police spokesman Pfc. Mike Levy said there have been eight arrests since the ordinance change, but the officers are exercising discretion before cuffing and stuffing most offenders.

“Every situation is unique and our officers are trained to know the difference between what should be an arrest and a situation where a warning is appropriate,” he said.

Levy offered a few examples from the obvious arrest situation to an incident where discretion is appropriate.

“If we respond to a noise complaint and there is a clearly intoxicated underage suspect in the street with an open container and yelling expletives, that’s an example where an arrest is the appropriate action,” he said. “That individual might put himself or others at risk, or might commit another more serious crime later, or might dash across the highway and get hit by a vehicle.”

Levy presented another example where a warning is appropriate.

“If one of our officers is on foot patrol on the Boardwalk and sees a 50-year-old man with his family and a stroller and a grandmother with him and he’s carrying a can of Miller Lite, the officer is likely going to tell the man it’s against the law to carry an open container of alcohol and ask him to toss it out and have a nice day.”

Levy presented other examples when arrests should be made or when a warning is necessary.

“There’s a common sense element to this and each case is different,” he said. “We’re not actively seeking out offenders, but in some cases, an arrest is the right thing to do for the safety of the individual and the public.”