OCEAN CITY — Resort officials this week advanced an ordinance that will, if approved, enhance penalties for those issued civil citations for various offenses but flaunt the law and continue the same illegal activity throughout the same day.
Last month, the Police Commission began cursory discussions about enhanced subsequent penalties for individuals who might receive a civil citation for a minor offense early in the day and continue the same illegal activity for the rest of the day. The commission began exploring another tool in the tool box that would allow police officers to issue stiffer penalties for repeat offenders.
On Wednesday, the Police Commission continued that debate and ultimately voted to forward an ordinance to the Mayor and Council as soon as this Monday. Because of the time of year and the onset of the summer season, the measure will be considered an emergency ordinance when it comes before the elected officials on Monday and would be effective immediately upon its passage.
OCPD Captain Kevin Kirstein said the idea had its roots in the street performers, some of whom in the past would not adhere to the regulations on the Boardwalk in terms of where they could operate or noise levels, for example. However, Kirstein said on Wednesday the enhanced penalties could be applied to other municipal infractions.
“When we began discussing this, we were thinking in terms of the street performers, but this has larger implications,” he said. “We’re not targeting any one group. It could be smoking citations or noise citations or any number of municipal infractions.”
Kirstein gave another example of an individual on the Boardwalk cited for a noise violation.
“He made it very clear he was not going to cease and desist just because we told him to,” he said. “We wrote him a citation and then he stopped. I could envision the same thing with the smoking ordinance. We can issue a citation and the individual can stuff it in his pocket and say the heck with you and light up again.”
Kirstein said the OCPD’s hands are tied somewhat because municipal infractions are issued and apply for the same day. Under the current law, the officers wouldn’t necessarily cite an individual for the same offense on the same day.
“What do we do when we give somebody a citation and they stuff it in their pocket and say thanks very much and continue to do the same illegal activity?” he said. “That’s what we’re hoping to address.”
Kirstein said the proposed ordinance would apply only to police activity and not building inspection violations, for example.
“We didn’t want to make every municipal infraction subject to this,” he said. “We want to make sure it applies to only police-issued infractions.”
Council President Lloyd Martin said he agreed the current law needed more teeth.
“To me, it makes perfect sense,” he said. “We don’t want somebody to do the same thing over and over. I’m definitely in favor of it.”
Councilman Dennis Dare said he was somewhat surprised the OCPD didn’t already have the powers expressed in the potential ordinance.
“In my mind, I thought the police already had this power,” he said. “We’re not really changing anything.”
Kirstein agreed and said there were examples where repeated illegal behavior crosses over to a more serious charge.
“If a person is giving an officer a lot of lip, a crowd starts to form,” he said. “It doesn’t take much to impede public traffic, and that moves it over to disorderly conduct.”
City Solicitor Guy Ayres, who will craft the ordinance, said recidivism has become the exception and not the norm.
“The basic problem with municipal infractions is you can’t put the police in a position where the words are meaningless,” he said. “When they say no, that means no or you’re going to be in trouble. When I was growing up, if a cop said stop, you stopped. It’s not like that anymore. The times have changed I guess.”