OCEAN CITY Ocean City officials are considering ways to address the smoking ban along the Boardwalk this season, bringing forth a larger discussion on enforcement efforts and police discretion.
In a Police Commission meeting on Monday, resort officials were given the opportunity to discuss issues regarding the smoking ban along the resort’s beach and Boardwalk. Council Secretary Mary Knight relayed smoking and vaping infractions that occur among the area’s locals. According to Knight, many visitors have not been informed of the smoking ban and were taking their lead from locals who were smoking and vaping along the beach and Boardwalk.
“I think one of the biggest groups abusers are the Caroline Street folks that hang around,” she said, adding that many street performers also fail to follow the rules. “Any time we see any of those guys smoke, they need to get a citation.”
City Manager Doug Miller explained that the issue at hand was the lack of information given to tourists.
“It’s more of a public information issue,” he said.
Councilman Wayne Hartman suggested using electronic signs along the area to inform visitors of the ban.
“People get so numb to the metal signs that are out there,” he said. “When you see an electronic reader board, they get your attention.”
Hartman explained that the signs would enforce a stronger message to its viewers.
“I think if we’re going to be indirect in our policing, I think we have to be direct in our message,” he said. “Smoking is prohibited on the Boardwalk, smoking and vaping. You don’t have to sugar coat everything. It is what it is.”
Since issuing a smoking ban in the aforementioned area, police have made an effort to initially educate the public on the town’s ordinance before writing a citation, according to Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Chief Ross Buzzuro. Last year, however, an edict given to the police department required stricter enforcement. With the edict, Buzzuro said police discretion was ultimately removed and, as a result, 79 citations were issued last season.
Knight made a motion to recommend using electronic signage and other methods to inform the public on the smoking ban, as well as a recommendation allowing the police and the Ocean City Beach Patrol to use their discretion in writing citations and reporting infractions.
“I hate to see discretion go away,” she said.
Hartman, however, disagreed with the issue of discretion and expressed the desire for more enforcement efforts.
“At some point, we need to hold people accountable for what they are doing,” he said. “We ask people when they come here to respect our laws.”
He added that many people have made comments to him regarding the town’s lack of enforcement.
“I hear from so many people, ‘You guys make all of these ordinances and you don’t enforce them,’” Hartman said. “I get so tired of hearing that. That is one of the biggest complaints I hear is that we don’t enforce stuff.”
Hartman suggested implementing a stronger message, but did not agree to the issue of police discretion. He suggested revisiting the issue once the season commenced.
The motion was ultimately blocked and no recommendation was made for the Mayor and Council.