In Letter, OC Police Chief Condemns Rowdy Weekend Behavior

OC Police Chief Ross Buzzuro File Photo

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro on Monday issued a statement characterizing the behavior of thousands of visitors associated with the H2O International event over the weekend as “unruly” and “appalling” and praised his officers and their allied partners for their efforts in the face of such adversity.

H2Oi officials two weeks ago announced the fall 2017 event scheduled for last weekend had been postponed over venue issues and other logistical problems. For years, the official H2Oi event has been hosted by the Fort Whaley campground west of Berlin, but unofficially, the event takes place on the streets of Ocean City, especially Coastal Highway.

Despite the cancellation of the formal event at Fort Whaley last weekend, it’s important to note the H2Oi event is not and never has been sanctioned by the town of Ocean City- it certainly did not dampen the enthusiasm for attendees, who began arriving mid-week last week. By the weekend, thousands of the tricked-out Volkswagens and Audis, among other makes and models, were racing up and down the street, snarling traffic and instigating OCPD officers and their allied partners.

The OCPD was prepared for the weekend and additional officers were brought in from allied law enforcement agencies, but the expanded police presence had its hands full all weekend, which reached a crescendo on Saturday night when a vehicle intentionally drove at and struck two police officers. The officers fired shots at the suspect and the fleeing vehicle to no avail and the suspect was later arrested after jumping in the bay and has been charged with attempted first-degree murder.

Buzzuro said there were 78 arrests over the weekend including the aforementioned attempted first-degree murder arrest, but the majority were disorderly conduct, second-degree assault, open container and similar charges. OCPD officers and their allied partners responded to a total of 2,735 calls from last Thursday through Sunday.

Only 21 percent of those calls were initiated by citizens, which tells me that our officers were proactive and addressed any issues quickly throughout the weekend,” said Buzzuro. “Several of these calls for service involved large crowds of unruly individuals seeking to instigate police officers and engage them. Our officers remained disciplined and monitored the crowds, taking measured action as required. Several officers suffered minor injuries during interactions with arrestees.”

Again, the event is not sanctioned by the town and there was no official H2Oi event last weekend, but thousands of participants came anyway. It’s important to note the weekend did attract many participants who came to the resort and followed traffic laws and obeyed town ordinances, but it appears a large majority did not. It creates a conundrum of sorts for Ocean City officials because anyone is invited to come and enjoy the resort and it is difficult, if not impossible, to keep potentially unruly visitors out. In his statement, Buzzuro basically alluded to the latter.

“Ocean City is a vibrant tourist destination known for our beautiful beaches, family-friendly events, great dining and amenities and our clean, safe community,” the statement reads. “Tourism is the foundation of our economy and we pride ourselves on welcoming everyone to our beautiful city. At the same time, we expect our guests to respect our town, our citizens and our laws and ordinances.”

Many who attended last weekend’s unofficial H2Oi rally in the resort did not respect the town and its law and ordinances, according to the chief.

“Unfortunately, this weekend brought visitors with much different intentions,” the statement reads. “While H2O International is not, and never has been, a city-hosted or sanctioned event and was officially canceled this year, we still hosted thousands of participants. There were a handful of visitors this weekend who simply came to enjoy our city. Unfortunately, it was the vast majority of the participants that quickly ruined it for everyone with unruly behavior and zero respect for our laws and property. The isolated incidents of violence combined with heavy traffic, litter, rude behavior and negligent driving cast a very negative view over the whole weekend.”

Buzzuro praised his officers and their allied partners for their professionalism throughout what can only be described as a chaotic weekend.

“Considering the number of unruly visitors, I believe our officers, together with partner agencies, including the Maryland State Police, Maryland Transportation Authority and sheriff’s officers from Worcester, Wicomico, and Queen Anne’s Counties, did an outstanding job of preventing events from escalating further,” the statement reads. “I am extremely proud to have witnessed the level of professionalism displayed by our officers in the face of such adversity.”

Beyond the apparent flaunting of traffic laws and town ordinances was an apparent disrespect for the town and its citizens and visitors not associated with the event, according to Buzzuro.

“It was very discouraging to say the least to see the amount of destruction to our town and the appalling behavior of many visitors,” the statement reads. “From trash throughout parking lots to tire markings at many intersections, our public works crews have worked diligently to restore the beauty of our town. We express our sincerest thanks to them for their efforts.”

Buzzuro said the OCPD shared the residents’ and visitors’ concerns with the H2Oi event and similar motorized special events and assessments will be made to try to ensure it is not repeated in the future.

“We understand our residents’ concerns about the events that occurred over the weekend and assure you that we share those concerns,” the statement reads. “While we assess the weekend and consider actions to take moving forward, it is critically important that we not allow one weekend to take away from what Ocean City is, a safe, beautiful, and clean place where families live and visit.”

(The full letter from Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro.)

Ocean City is a vibrant tourist destination known for our beautiful beaches, family friendly events, great dining and amenities, and our safe, clean community. Tourism is the foundation of our economy and we pride ourselves on welcoming everyone to enjoy our beautiful city. At the same time, we expect our guests to respect our town, our citizens, and our laws and ordinances.

Unfortunately, this weekend brought visitors with much different intentions. While H2O International is not, and has never been, a city-hosted or sanctioned event and was officially cancelled this year, we still hosted thousands of participants. There were a handful of visitors this weekend who came to simply enjoy our city. Unfortunately, it was the vast majority of the participants that quickly ruined it for everyone, with unruly behavior and zero respect for our laws and property. The isolated incidents of violence combined with heavy traffic, littler, rude behavior, and negligent driving cast a very negative view over the whole weekend.

Considering the number of unruly visitors, I believe our officers, together with partner agencies, including the Maryland State Police, Maryland Transportation Authority, and sheriff’s officers from Worcester, Wicomico and Queen Anne’s counties, did an outstanding job of preventing events from escalating even further. I am extremely proud to have witnessed the level of professionalism displayed by our officers in the face of such adversity.

Based on preliminary reports:

  • Officers responded to 2,735 total calls for service from Thursday, September 28 through Sunday, October 1. Only 21% of those calls for service were initiated by citizens, which tells me that our officers were proactive and addressed any issues quickly throughout the entire weekend.
  • Several of these calls for service involved large crowds of unruly individuals seeking to instigate police officers to engage them. Our officers remained disciplined and monitored the crowds, taking measured action as required
  • Several officers suffered minor injuries during interactions with arrestees. On Saturday night, one of our officers and a Worcester County Sheriff’s deputy were struck and thrown to the hood of a fleeing vehicle, forcing officers to fire their weapons. Thankfully, no officers or suspects were seriously injured as a result of this incident.
  • Officers arrested 78 individuals. While one individual was charged with attempted murder, the majority face disorderly conduct, open container, 2nddegree assault and other similar charges.

It was very discouraging, to say the least, to see the amount of destruction to our town and the appalling behavior of many visitors. From trash throughout parking lots to tire markings at many intersections, our Public Works crews have worked diligently to restore the beauty of our town. We express our sincerest thanks to them for their efforts.

We understand our residents’ concerns about the events that occurred over the weekend and assure you that we share those concerns. While we assess the weekend and consider actions to take moving forward, it is critically important that we not allow one weekend to take away from what Ocean City is: a safe, beautiful, and clean place where families live and visit.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.