Iron Fist Needs To Come With Public Component

From a public relations standpoint, this has been the summer from hell in Ocean City.

With about six serious accidents resulting in life-changing injuries for the victims on local roads, a shooting, multiple stabbings, selected visitors exhibiting threatening behavior and a slew of general disturbing incidents in the area, there is no ignoring the fact times have changed. This is the case everywhere, but it’s particularly revealing that it’s happening in Ocean City, a small-knit community with a year-round population base under 7,000 that swells to about 300,000 at times during the summer.

It’s a different culture now than it was as recent as a few years ago. The days when a man would turn away dejected after being told he could not enter his bar of choice continues today, but what’s different is there is that one person out of dozens who will make an issue and pull a knife on a bouncer or bar owner. That has been happening elsewhere for years and it’s now occurring in Ocean City.

Times have changed, and Ocean City is not alone in dealing with the consequences of that. Of all the issues, including this week’s tragic scooter accident, the Boardwalk stabbing in June that was gang related, the 6-year-old being struck and severely injured in a crosswalk in a hit-and-run incident and June’s shooting incident, it’s the individual stories that are related on a daily basis that should get the most consideration. It’s the swell of emails and phone calls that tell personal accounts of disturbing situations that give us the most pause.

Now more than ever, people are bringing forward their concerns, some of which are founded and some of which are overly dramatic and a result of social media commenters misunderstanding the entire situation and blurring the lines between perception and reality.

One particular issue relayed to this outlet from a caller last week merits a general rehashing because it’s largely symbolic of many recent concerns. It was from a Pennsylvania woman who has been following all the happenings of Ocean City, but still spends her two weeks in the resort every summer and has no plans to not do so. She stayed on the Boardwalk for six days last month, starting early in the week and checking out on Sunday. She reported having a marvelous week, enjoying fulfilling traditions of years gone by, but admitted to bringing her family in a little earlier from the Boardwalk at night than she used to as a result of the incidents of late. Wanting to sleep with her sliding door open in her Boardwalk condominium so she could hear the ocean, she reported hearing men shouting at 2 a.m. that the Boardwalk was closed and it was now “our town.” She didn’t know what that meant, and neither do we, but she knew it was not something she wanted to be involved with. We have heard of this happening multiple times this season.

The heart of the summer is not the time to have serious public talks about Ocean City’s perception versus reality, but the fall surely is and planning should be underway now. One item we would like to see specifically addressed is a curfew on the Boardwalk.

What that person heard from her window cannot be tolerated and it’s not an isolated incident. In our view, the time has come for the Boardwalk to essentially close to the public at 2 a.m., and Ocean City should crack down publicly on it. The Boardwalk is one of Ocean City’s crown jewels, only second to the beach and ocean in our view. It needs to be preserved and the idea that it’s unsafe at certain hours needs to be addressed. The belief by some unruly sorts that they can take over the Boardwalk at any time of day or night cannot be accepted either.

It has been a summer to remember for all the wrong reasons. It has been tragic on so many fronts, and the Mayor and Council, Ocean City Police Department and tourism officials will need to accept this fact and publicly lead a charge to counterbalance all the negatives. That needs to be the sequel to this summer’s “Lucky Summer of ‘13” campaign.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.