Hope For The Best, Be Prepared For The Worst

There were mixed messages being delivered in recent weeks over the planned “College Beach Takeover Week,” scheduled to start yesterday and last through Sunday.

There are the various law enforcement agencies, charged with maintaining peace and order, who have been preparing for this weekend over the last several weeks with special deployments and strategic initiatives. Ocean City Police Chief Ross Burruro said in a statement, “In response to a number of calls and questions regarding the upcoming unsanctioned event scheduled to take place June 5-8, we want to assure our citizens that the Ocean City Police Department is fully prepared for the influx of visitors that this event and the weekend may bring to our town. … We’re optimistic that the majority of people that are planning to come to OceanCity throughout the month of June are here to enjoy the beach and everything our town has to offer. Those that come with other intentions will be met with no tolerance and strict enforcement.”

Worcester County Sheriff Reggie Mason was blunt about the event. “I’ve canceled all leave for all of our people,” he said. “We’re bringing in our volunteers and our school patrol officers and part-timers. Again, we want them to come and have a great time, but we also want our residents and visitors to feel safe and go out shopping and enjoying the restaurants like they always do.”

While acknowledging the police are ready, some of Ocean City’s officials, on the other hand, are playing the spin game, publicly and privately, which is disappointing. It’s logical for the town to be rational and not over exaggerate the event’s potential and the fact it, along with an estimated 40,000 attendees, has caused major trouble in other tourist destinations, but it’s irresponsible and risky to simply cast the event as a product of the media and cast doubt on the seriousness of the matter.

The good news is law enforcement has been out front of this event and has done its due diligence. That’s all that matters. It’s actually irrelevant if town officials prefer to bury their proverbial heads in the sand because there are no major online threads clearly laying out beach weekend intentions and party locations. The signs might not be obvious, but there are several Twitter accounts that clearly outline an intention to party. That in itself is not a big deal, but couple it with previous criminal incidents elsewhere and it should raise concerns.

All we can do at this point is hope the people who come here enjoy themselves in a safe manner and do not cause an unnecessary uproar. We hope city officials are correct in their assumption that all will be fine and it will be like a tropical storm that’s all hype with no impact, but we believe the media has an obligation to inform the public.

Officials are reportedly privately trying to calm business owners’ concerns by saying the media is using hyperbole when reporting on the event. It’s as if they would prefer there be no media reports on the event and its planned convergence on Ocean City. The public deserve to know what could happen in the town and the mayhem the event caused last April in Virginia Beach, along with the peaceful most recent gathering in the same resort. City officials can blow smoke and blame the Internet and newspapers all they want, but it’s irresponsible and bad leadership to do so.

Fortunately, the area’s law enforcement agencies are on the same page and being pro-active and aggressive about this event, which has featured largely African-American attendees at its former events. Race does not matter here, however. What does matter is these former “takeover” weekends had at least two violent gatherings in its past and that needs to be taken into consideration, particularly in light of Ocean City hosting multiple events this weekend, including one huge youth lacrosse tournament and hundreds of elected officials across the state.

Whether it’s publicly acknowledged or not, police have advised local bars to be prepared to close early if problems arise, to hire additional security personnel in case of huge crowds popping up at one time and to consider playing country music inside and outside their establishments.

That’s an abnormal approach, but this event’s troubled past merits special consideration from authorities as well as stakeholders in Ocean City. It’s about public safety and that’s the clear bottom line.