Task Force Reviews Cruisin Event After New Tactics; Officials Agree Rain Reduced Infractions, Event Turnout

OCEAN CITY — Heavy rain during the spring Cruisin event did not provide a true barometer of how the new special event zone worked, so resort officials will stay the course and keep implementing measures to curb activity associated with the shoulder season’s motorized events.

That was the main takeaway from the motorized special event task force’s wrap-up of the Cruisin event this week. After last year’s rocky motorized special event season, resort officials formed a task force to begin exploring ways to combat some of the illicit and reckless activity. Throughout the winter, the task force met several times to explore a multi-faceted response to many of the issues associated with the events.

The centerpiece of the task force initiatives was the creation of a special enforcement zone along the resort’s roadways akin to highway work zones or school zones, for example, with lower speed limits, higher fines, stronger enforcement and a zero tolerance for shenanigans such as spinning wheels and doing burnouts.

The spring Cruisin event was the first with a new special enforcement zone, and by and large it achieved the desired results, the task force learned this week. However, severe weather and heavy rain curtailed the number of participants and kept most off the roadways at least in the early part of the weekend.

As a result, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of the special event zone and other initiatives implemented by the task force, the promoter and other stakeholders. Mayor Rick Meehan said on Wednesday there was a lot to be pleased with after the first event with the new initiatives, but it was important that the town does not rest on those laurels because of the sample size.

“I don’t know if this event was a true test,” he said. “It gave us an indication of what worked well. Now, we just have to make sure we don’t let our guard down.”

Bob Rothermel of TEAM Productions, which produces the spring and fall Cruisin events, agreed the participation levels were down because of the weather and not all of the initiatives his team had in place were utilized. For example, the producer had special events planned outside of Ocean City, including the Route 113 drag way in Delmar, in order to get some of the event-related traffic out of the resort, but some of them were canceled.

“Certainly, the weather impacted the event tremendously,” he said. “We purposely reduced the number of cars we registered and the number of no-shows was high because of the rain. All of that planning for several months went down the drain.”

However, Rothermel said other initiatives, including events at the convention center, the Inlet, the Ocean Downs Casino and at Trimper’s Rides did go off as planned and were highly successful. Rothermel said he polled many of the registered participants and most were in favor of the changes implemented.

“The long-time participants we talked to thought we were doing the right thing,” he said. “Those that didn’t obey the law didn’t.”

Meehan said a good gauge of the effectiveness of the new initiatives was the volume of phone calls and emails he typically receives after a motorized special event, which was down considerably after the spring Cruisin event.

“I didn’t get anywhere near the usual number of complaints,” he said. “If you weren’t here to break the law, the special event zone shouldn’t have any impact on you. I think it was received very well.”

Beyond the creation of the special event zone, other initiatives included having the business community and the private sector participate with extra vigilance, adding security on their private property and getting the word out in a variety of ways to their guests. Meehan said it would be easy for all stakeholders to let their guard down after a relatively quiet first test, but cautioned against that.

“The one thing we have to do is get people to stick to the program,” he said. “The numbers were down because of the weather, so we can’t let our guard down and we have to stay the course.”

Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Chief Ross Buzzuro gave his own assessment of the success of the first event with the new initiatives in place.

“Friday was a wash-out, but Saturday was more of what we should expect going forward,” he said. “There was a tremendous drop-off in some of the behavior like spinning wheels, for example. We didn’t see the level of aggressive behavior seen in years past.”

Buzzuro said the special event zone achieved the desired results for the most part in its debut.

“I think the special event zone and all of the logistics put into it had very few hiccups,” he said. “I think the message got out. We did write a number of citations and some of the fines were increased substantially. Some of the ambiguity has been removed and the special event zone worked.”

Buzzuro said the OCPD wrote 467 citations during the event weekend, which was down from the 568 reported during spring Cruisin last year. Of those 467 citations, 45, or about 10 percent, were for violations related to the special event zone. In those cases, the fines were as high as $530.

Another big takeaway from Wednesday’s spring Cruisin event recap was when the special event zone and other initiatives will be implemented again. It was learned on Wednesday the special event zone will be rolled out during the weekend in September when the H2O International (H2Oi) event typically occurs in and around Ocean City.

It’s no secret H2Oi weekend is the problem child of sorts among the motorized special events. Earlier this spring, it was reported the official H2Oi event was moving to Atlantic City this fall, but resort officials still believe there will be a strong number of the hangers-on that will still come to Ocean City that weekend. Social media reports confirm that.

“We know the official event has a relationship with Atlantic City,” said Buzzuro. “We still believe we’re going to have a presence here.”

Meehan agreed and said those who go to the H2Oi event and register and participate typically don’t cause the problems. It’s the hangers-on that cause the problem and many of them will still come to Ocean City that weekend just to be defiant.

“We know we are still going to have an impact,” he said. “We just have to be vigilant and keep doing the things we’re doing. If they are not here to break the law, they won’t have any problem.”

However, OC Bike Fest, another motorized special event, will get a free pass from the special event zone this fall, it was learned on Wednesday.

“I don’t think Bike Week warrants it,” Buzzuro said. “Overall, Bike Week doesn’t present the same kinds of problems.”

Meehan agreed the special event zone was probably not appropriate during bike week, at least for this year. However, if problems arise, it could be implemented in out years.

“If they stay within the box, we won’t have to implement it,” he said. “I think the word is getting out. The word got out very quickly with this. In this case, social media was our friend.”

Meehan reiterated again the abbreviated spring Cruisin event was not a great barometer for task force initiatives and encouraged all stakeholders to stay the course going forward.

“It’s important the we don’t let our guard down because we get new people each year,” he said. “Just as fast as the word got out about this event, the word can get out just as fast if things are relaxed.”

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.