Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – June 9, 2017

Ignore it — that’s the approach the Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) has essentially adopted when it comes to barechested women on the beach. If a complaint is made by another person on the beach, the lifeguard on duty is to document it but not take action.

The matter of women going topless in Ocean City seems like a simple issue on the surface but from a legal perspective it’s anything but in reality. Most cultural and individual norms in this country indicate women’s breasts should not be exposed in public for all to see. However, many are maintaining if men can do it women should be able as well.

It’s anything but an easy matter in the year 2017. In fact, it’s quite complicated. That’s confirmed by the state’s Attorney General’s Office apparent struggle with the legal matter. It’s quite obvious a change in the law will be needed to have a clear and clean determination of decency. As it stands today, according to the law, women have the same right as men to walk around without a shirt or undergarment. As a result, the OCBP has directed its lifeguards with an official policy statement detailing the “hands-off” approach (I couldn’t resist that pun).

“We will document the complaint on a minor incident form (which requires an incident number from CAD) with information and particulars about the situation and the complainant’s information. We will not approach the topless woman, even if requested to do so by the complainant or other beach patrons,” the policy reads. “If at any time the complainant requests Ocean City Police Department response, then we will make that request on their behalf, through Ocean City Communications.”

What happens when the police get involved? From what I understand, what typically occurs is a police officer may approach the barechested individual and simply ask her to cover up considering the surroundings and the fact children are nearby. That has reportedly been happening for years with foreign workers who are simply unaware it’s not the same here as it is at home.

Armed with knowledge there is nothing authorities can do to force them to cover up since they can’t be charged with anything, it will be interesting to see how many empowered women start going topless in the area.

The crux of the issue comes down to several sentences in a brief submitted by Chelsea Covington, the woman who first brought the matter to State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby, who then sought the opinion of the top legal authority in Maryland.

“Anticipating the argument that a police officer may still charge a bare-chested woman with the catch-all charges of disorderly conduct, public indecency or open lewdness, merely being a female is neither disorderly, indecent or lewd, any more than being a male is,” the brief reads. “Since police do not consider mere barechestedness disorderly, indecent or lewd in a male, it cannot be considered so in a female.”

Indeed this is not a simple matter, despite what our individual morals and values may dictate.

The debate over the spring Cruisin’ weekend in Ocean City resurfaced at City Hall Monday night.

One thing that is not productive in the broad Cruisin’ debate is the silly insulting comments from City Hall audience members while others are speaking. The attitude seemed to be among some folks that if their opinion was not shared those with opposing views deserved to be ridiculed and mocked. The statements of “move to Ocean Pines” could easily be heard from event supporters while town residents were speaking out against the weekend’s antics.

That rude, intolerant and elitist attitude, in part, has us where we are today regarding the Cruisin’ weekend issues. It’s these outside groups who come here intent on disrupting, damaging infrastructure and doing as they please that have ruined this weekend. They don’t care what anyone says or does. They are going to wreak havoc no matter if it bothers people or causes property damage. In fact, they are fixated on doing both in many cases.

Another takeaway from this week’s conversation at City Hall and the thousands of comments on our Facebook page after the story was posted is the absurdity that Ocean City can simply ramp up fines for the weekend and impound violators’ vehicles. It’s not that simple. Those are state issues.

I still believe the only non-option is to do nothing. There is no solution here that will please everyone. There’s going to have to be some give and take. The answer lies in compromise. Extremist positions adopted by many are not productive. Canceling the event is not going to happen. Conversely, leaving it alone without any significant efforts to cut down on the lawlessness and public safety issues would be irresponsible.

Although I got blasted by many, I still believe moving the event to April is best. If the weather is nice in mid-May, the crowds will still come to Ocean City regardless of Cruisin’. Sure it won’t be the volume that it has been with the event weekend, but it will still be solid. Nice weather brings people to the beach in May. That’s not so much the case in April.

Another aspect I think would be productive is adopting a zero tolerance for violators. This has essentially been the case with the OCPD. Tickers far outstrip warnings. That’s not the case with outside police agencies who are reluctant to ticket because of the return visit it will require if it’s fought by the violator.

There is no simple answer to these ongoing issues, but significant changes are a must.

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.