OCEAN CITY — With two motorized special events on the horizon, the resort’s task force met this week with a promise of an even stronger presence and a new strategy to tackle some of the challenges.
In the wake of a couple of troublesome motorized special events in the past, Ocean City formed a task force to explore strategies to address some of the lawlessness and abject bad behavior associated with some of the participants. Out of those early task force meetings was a “special event zone,” with reduced speed limits and higher fines among other enforcement measures.
The task force’s efforts also resulted in a stronger law enforcement presence during the motorized special events and a concerted effort by the private sector to curb some of the illicit behavior associated with the events.
With last week’s Bike Week in the books and two events on the immediate horizon in the resort, including the unsanctioned H2Oi event’s hangers-on next week, followed by the Endless Summer Cruisin’ event during the second weekend in October, the task force reconvened on Tuesday to begin shoring up plans for increased enforcement including some new strategies.
For years, the H2Oi event, self-billed as the “laid back” two-day Volkswagen and Audi event, was held at Fort Whaley campground on Route 50 west of Berlin. Last year, the official H2Oi event moved to Atlantic City and is scheduled to return their next weekend.
Unofficially, the annual event took place on the streets of Ocean City. OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro confirmed during Tuesday’s task force meeting his department’s intelligence work indicates a strong contingent of unofficial hangers-on are expected to return next week.
To be fair, it’s important to note the H2Oi event was never sanctioned by the town nor did it bill itself as an event held in the resort. However, in recent years, the annual event typically held in late September and early October has been associated with lawlessness and recklessness that spurred the creation of a task force to begin exploring ways to curb some of the illicit behavior associated with some of the motorized special events.
“We expect to have an as large or even larger presence,” he said. “The true enthusiasts will go to Atlantic City, but they aren’t the ones that cause us any problems anyway. We’ll have a strong presence, larger than we’ve had in recent years.”
The special event zone, with reduced speed limits, higher fines for violators, and increased law enforcement presence and other measures aimed at curbing the behavior associated with the special events will be implemented next Tuesday. Buzzuro said the OCPD will implement increased enforcement efforts around the same time, with the allied law enforcement partners arriving shortly thereafter.
“We will start to ramp up our enforcement on Wednesday,” he said. “Then, we’ll have a strong allied law enforcement presence throughout the weekend.”
While special enforcement zones and a stronger police presence will continue to be the hammers during the motorized events, task force members on Tuesday unveiled some elements of a softer approach. Mayor Rick Meehan showed new signs that will be placed around the resort during next week’s unsanctioned event and the cruising event during the first weekend in October.
The first version of the signs, which are being supplied by the Endless Summer Cruisin event promoter, read “Drive Like Your Kids Live Here,” but it was determined there were copyright issues with that message. Instead, the new signs, which will be placed around the resort during the special events read “Drive Safely- Keep Our Kids Safe.”
Similar messages will be promoted on the temporary electronic message boards at the entrances to the resort and throughout town along with the standard speed limit reduction and higher fines messages. Meehan said the signs hope to be a reminder to participants that Ocean City is also a residential community similar to those from whence the participants come.
“We’re going to place them in entryways to residential communities and on Coastal Highway,” he said. “We hope it will help get the word out to our citizens that we are being proactive with these events and also let the visitors know our families and our kids live here too and remind them to drive and behave like they do in their own communities. Sometimes, small steps yield big results and we hope this is one of those cases.”
While all agreed with the signs’ message and implementation strategy, Buzzuro cautioned next week’s group might not take the hint. He suggested the signs might not make it through next weekend and be available for the cruising event the following week.
“I think we have to be careful with these signs,” he said. “I think they should be at the entrances to residential communities, but on Coastal Highway, I think they will become trophies.”
Task force member Joe Groves suggested getting a different message out to participants of next week’s unsanctioned event. In recent years, the lead-up to the unofficial H2Oi event has been marked by a battle of wills on social media with the town and its law enforcement agencies promising strict enforcement and zero tolerance.
Many of the unofficial and unregistered attendees of the event have thumbed their collective noses at those messages, promising to come anyway, continue the typical behavior and “send it,” to borrow their expression. Groves suggested reaching out to the group with a softer message.
“I agree with everything we’re doing, but I think there might be a different approach,” he said. “It wouldn’t hurt to reach out to them through social media with a message that we’re welcoming the good ones and all are welcome as long as they obey the laws and respect the community.”
Buzzuro said his department and its allied partners would continue their zero tolerance approach, but agreed Groves’ social media idea might have merit. He suggested toning down some of the negative rhetoric.
“It seems the negative messages we put out kind of embolden this particular group,” he said. “It can have an adverse effect.”
Regardless of the approach, Buzzuro said the large group expected to begin arriving in Ocean City next week will be met with an in-kind response from law enforcement.
“We realize what we’re going to be up against,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge. We’ll put everything out there from a resource standpoint. Our strategy has changed somewhat for this year. We realize this will always be challenging. Our strategy will be zero tolerance.”
For his part, Meehan praised the efforts of the task force and the entire community for coming together to find solutions to tame the motorized special events somewhat, although challenges remain.
“I think it shows a real commitment in the community,” he said. “The town is partnering with the business community, law enforcement, residents and all of the stakeholders.”