OCEAN CITY — As promised, the Ocean City Police Department has been writing more citations for violations of the smoking ban on the Boardwalk, but education and outreach remain the enforcement technique of choice for the most part.
The Police Commission on Monday got an update on the enforcement efforts of the smoking ban on the beach and Boardwalk implemented last year. During the first year of the smoking ban, town officials and the OCPD instituted a grace period of sorts during which the public would be educated about the changes. For the most part, officers would point to the smoking prohibition signs and instruct smokers to snub out their cigarettes and move on in an attempt to slowly indoctrinate the changes in the ordinance.
This year, however, the Mayor and Council instructed the OCPD to step up enforcement and begin to write citations and the department has complied for the most part. Just three smoking citations were issued in June and July on the Boardwalk last year. This year, 12 citations were issued for smoking on the Boardwalk in June and four more have been issued thus far in July.
The number of calls for service on the smoking ordinance has declined substantially from 2015 to 2016, apparently indicating the education and outreach approach is working. For example, there were 199 calls for service related to the smoking ban in 2015, compared to 122 during the same time period in 2016, representing a decline of about 39 percent.
Obviously, there is a direct correlation between the number of calls for service regarding the smoking ordinance and the volume of people on the Boardwalk. Not surprisingly, Saturday has been the busiest week of the year in terms of smoking complaints, followed by Friday although the drop-off is considerable. The other five days are more or less comparable, although they don’t approach the figures for the weekend days.
At Monday’s Police Commission meeting, OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro presented some of the statistics and pointed out while more citations have been issued, the department is continuing its outreach efforts in many cases.
“Education remains very important,” he said. “We’re seeing more compliance every day. The message is hitting home.”
Buzzuro said there have been tickets issued, but it appears from first-hand experience the awareness campaign is achieving the desired results.
“We have issued citations,” he said. “For the most part, it’s been on the Boardwalk and on the weekends. I was up there on the weekend and I was hard pressed to find anyone smoking.”
OCPD Captain Kevin Kirstein likened the smoking enforcement efforts to the mandatory seatbelt law implemented several years ago.
“It’s a lot like seatbelt use,” he said. “When it was required, people were resistant or didn’t know the law, but now Maryland is something like 90 percent compliant. We think that’s what we’re going to see with the smoking.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said he was pleased more citations were being written and urged the department to continue to hold smokers’ feet to the fire with even more tickets.
“I’m glad to see enforcement is going up,” he said. “It’s a two-and-a-half-mile Boardwalk and it’s easy to find somebody smoking somewhere because we can’t be everywhere at all times. The Boardwalk officers have to have a panoramic view to see somebody smoking.”
Meehan said the year-and-a-half or so since the ordinance was adopted was more than enough of a grace period.
“I think it’s time to write tickets,” he said. “It’s been a year-and-a-half. I think the word will spread a little faster with tickets written and issued.”
Last year, the ordinance adopted by the Mayor and Council banned smoking on the beach except for designated areas with proper receptacles for disregarding cigarette butts. The designated smoking areas are located on the beach at each street from the Inlet to the Delaware line with a few exceptions and smoking is only allowed within 15 feet of the designated areas.
Meehan said enforcement on the beach has been more challenging and urged the public to report those who flaunt the law.
“Unlike the two-and-a-half mile Boardwalk, we have a 10-mile beach,” he said. “Again, we can’t be in all places all of the time, so we have to rely on our citizens to be our eyes and ears.”
Kirstein said like the smoking ban, other ordinances related to the Boardwalk also relied on a continued education approach.
“What we’re seeing go up significantly is can I ride my bike on the Boardwalk or skateboard or walk my dog,” he said. “Those are a little more confusing for people. We’re hoping for more education on those issues.”
Meehan agreed although he said it could be time to write tickets for those offenses in some cases.
“It’s the same thing with some of those other things,” he said. “We need enforcement on some of those smaller issues. We’re not taking a hard line, but we expect all of our ordinances to be enforced.”