Shawn J. Soper
OCEAN CITY – After the number of smoking citations written during the month of June jumped 1,000 percent over the prior year, the same trend did not continue over the rest of the summer for a variety of reasons, although the numbers still went up.
During a police commission meeting in July, it was reported the number of citations issued for smoking on the Boardwalk and other areas increased to 357, representing an increase of about 1,000 percent over the prior year. In 2015, Ocean City passed an ordinance banning smoking on the beach and Boardwalk except within 15 feet of designated smoking areas with the appropriate receptacles.
Over the last year, the focus has changed from education and awareness to strict enforcement with fewer warnings and more citations issued.
The proof was in the pudding when the police commission reviewed the statistics for June, prompting some on the council to request an overview of the enforcement efforts for July and August, and while the numbers continued to increase compared to 2017, they did not escalate at the same rate as they did in June.
For example, during Monday’s police commission meeting, Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Chief Ross Buzzuro reported after 357 citations were written in June, the number dropped to 37 in July and just 17 in August. Some on the commission questioned the drop-off, but Buzzuro said it was likely attributable to greater awareness and not reflective of less enforcement.
“It was likely a combination of compliance and enforcement,” he said. “There is a big education component to this, and after those big numbers in June were reported, I think the word got out to some degree.”
Councilman Dennis Dare, who chairs the commission, suggested the drop-off in citations could have had something to do with the demographics in the resort in June.
“The demographic in June is a lot younger than in July and August,” he said. “Also, the public safety aides patrolling the Boardwalk in June were much more visible.”
Councilman Wayne Hartman said he didn’t see the relevance in the age demographic changes. Buzzuro again asserted the strong enforcement in June paid dividends later in the summer.
“In June, there was zero tolerance at the beginning of the summer,” he said. “I think that message resonated for the rest of the season.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight agreed the enforcement seemed consistent throughout the summer and the drop-off in citations was likely due to the stronger message early on.
“I believe it was consistent,” she said. “I think the enforcement was the same in June, July and August. I’m personally pleased with what I’m seeing.”
Discussions regarding smoking on the Boardwalk also carried into Wednesday’s Coastal Resources Legislative Committee, or Green Team, meeting, where resort officials relayed ongoing efforts to establish designated smoking areas to the west of the famed promenade.
Councilman Tony DeLuca, who chairs the green committee, noted that since the town enacted its smoking ordinance, businesses to the west of the Boardwalk have noted more people congregating on the sidewalk and side streets to smoke.
“Businesses tell me they are sweeping cigarette butts every morning near the entrances to the Boardwalk,” he said.
To that end, DeLuca said officials are working to secure a $2,000 grant that would be used to purchase cigarette butt receptacles and signs, which will be installed in areas west of the Boardwalk to 27th Street.
Public Works Director Hal Adkins said the biggest issue would be finding locations west of the Boardwalk to establish a designated smoking area while also appeasing nearby businesses. He said the plan is to place the receptacles near barriers that are part of the Boardwalk access control program.
“The smoking may only be five feet off the Boardwalk to do what I just said,” he said, “but it’s a compromise to keep it away from the business owners’ front doors and to keep people from walking through it.”
Police commission members on Monday also questioned a reported spike in the number of animal complaints during the summer, which totaled around 180. Hartman questioned if that total reflected the number of interactions between animals and residents and visitors and wondered if there should be a license for visiting dogs, for example.
Buzzuro said the 180 number did not represent the total of dog bites, for example.
“If we get a complaint about a dog on the Boardwalk, that falls under this,” he said. “The same goes for questions about a service animal. Any time there is any interaction between our people and an animal issue, it falls under this.”
Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald agreed the 180-figure for animal complaints was skewed.
“The word ‘attack’ is misleading,” he said. “It’s not always an animal biting or harming someone. We get a lot of calls about service animals and that falls under this. If a seagull gets hit by a car, that falls under this.”