OCEAN CITY — Amid the backlash of public opinion stemming from the release of an Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) policy statement directing staffers not to approach topless women on the beach, the town issued a formal statement on Friday attempting to quell the negative publicity and assure residents and visitors it’s not an accepted behavior.
On Tuesday, the OCBP issued a policy statement retroactive to May 20 on the issue of females exercising their perceived rights to go topless in the same areas where men are allowed to go shirtless, essentially directing beach patrol staffers to carefully document complaints, but not approach those who choose to go topless.
The issue arose late last summer when a Maryland woman reached out to the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office, the town of Ocean City and its police department seeking an opinion on the legality of women going topless in the same areas where men are allowed to go shirtless under the Equal Protection Act.
The Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office and the OCPD in turn reached out to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office seeking an opinion on the issue, an opinion that is still forthcoming. In the meantime, the OCBP and the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) are still working under the rather nebulous state statutes on female toplessness and indecent exposure, for example, while tip-toeing a fine line between protecting individual rights and the collective rights of the public and the family image of the resort. On Tuesday, absent an opinion from the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, the OCBP issued this directive to its staffers.
“Until we get specific guidance from the State’s Attorney, the City Solicitor and the Mayor and Council, we will handle complaints about women going topless on our beaches in the following manner,” the policy statement reads. “We will document the complaint on a minor incident form 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 OCBP’s directive touched off a firestorm of public opinion on the issue as the word spread about the stated policy. While many of the comments were supportive of the equal rights issue, the large majority trended to the negative, cast out of fear Ocean City’s famed beaches were suddenly going topless and the resort’s family image forever tarnished.
On Friday, after several days of taking a public relations beating over the female topless issue, the town issued a formal statement of its own, hoping to quell the fears and concerns and assuring residents and visitors the issue was being considered carefully and thoughtfully.
“Despite what is being circulated on social media, the town of Ocean City is not a topless beach and will not become a topless beach,” the statement reads. “The intent of the policy that is being reported on was strictly for our beach patrol employees. We want our lifeguards to have their eyes on the ocean, as the safety of our swimmers is their first priority.”
While the beach patrol’s stated policy directs staffers to document complaints, but avoid approaching those who choose to go topless, the town’s official statement released on Friday asserts the OCPD will continue to respond to any and all complaints about female toplessness.
“Our police department, on the other hand, will respond to calls from the beach patrol and complaints from our beach patrons should any activity of toplessness occur,” the statement reads. “We have received dozens of phone calls, read thousands of comments and answered numerous emails from our residents and visitors expressing their concerns. We assure you we share those concerns and intend to do whatever is necessary to prevent this from happening on our beach, or any public area in Ocean City.”