OCEAN CITY — Despite times of plain ugliness, resort officials on Monday said the enhanced strategies in place to handle the chaotic pop-up car rally this weekend achieved the desired results.
Mayor Rick Meehan and Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Chief Ross Buzzuro on Monday held a joint virtual press conference to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly of the last week. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the press conference was the measures planned for and implemented over the course of five days last week did what they were intended to do for the most part although there is still much work to be done.
The pop-up car rally did wreak havoc on the resort throughout late last week and into the weekend, particularly on Saturday night, when at times it appeared as if the town was coming unglued and chaos ensued. However, Meehan said the plan in place, including the enhanced special event zone law, a beefed-up towing ordinance, altered traffic patterns and road closures and hundreds of police officers on the streets, achieved the desired results for the most part.
“What we saw this weekend was unacceptable,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you it wasn’t ugly at times, but the plan worked. Moving forward, we’re going to continue to address this. We’re still standing.”
For his part, Buzzuro agreed strategy worked as planned for the most part, save for a few times when the lawlessness appeared be gaining the upper hand, and had high praise for his department and its allied law enforcement partners.
“We will never back down and we will never stand back,” he said. “We had a plan in place and it was a success.”
Buzzuro also thanked the local community for their patience during what was certainly a trying weekend.
“I want to thank the community for its unwavering support,” he said. “They wanted us to do the best we could to protect and serve the community and we did the very best we could. At times it was very difficult, but in the end, we prevailed.”
It’s important to note the annual pop-up car rally is not sanctioned or even welcomed by Ocean City. It is largely social media-driven without a designated promoter or organizer. The question has been raised in recent years about simply not letting the participants in, but that is neither practical or legal.
Instead, the Town of Ocean City, its police department and its allied partners have to grin and bear it for the most part and take steps and have measures in place to control it to the extent possible. From the end of the event last year to the start of it last week, resort officials and the motorized special event task force essentially left no stone unturned in the preparations.
“We invite everybody to Ocean City,” said Meehan. “The only thing we ask is that they obey our laws and respect our community. Unfortunately, that’s not what occurred this weekend. We anticipated this activity and we were prepared. We’ve been planning for this for 365 days.”
Part of the plan was altering traffic patterns, redirecting traffic and even closing certain roadways during the event and that took place at times throughout the weekend. For example, southbound Coastal Highway was closed at the Route 90 Bridge intersection for two hours Friday night and traffic was directed north. On Saturday evening, Philadelphia Avenue was closed south of Route 50 and southbound traffic was rerouted across the bridge. In answer to a question about the alterations and closures, Buzzuro said they were necessary at times to maintain control and redirect personnel and resources.
“In terms of the large volume of motorists, we needed to control certain areas of town,” he said. “Extracting some of the volume of traffic gave us the ability to add more law enforcement in those areas. We realized this caused a degree of consternation, but it was needed to give us a measure of control.”
The illicit behavior reached a crescendo on Saturday night as OCPD officers and their allied partners battled with large groups of disorderly individuals in different areas from one end of the town to another. At least two police officers were injured, including a Maryland State Police trooper who hit his head during an arrest, became unconcious and required a transport to the hospital. With hundreds of police officers already on the streets, Buzzuro said as the pop-up event escalated on Saturday, a call went out for even more resources and manpower.
“We made a call out to other law enforcement agencies on the Eastern Shore and that call for additional personnel added another layer to our enforcement efforts,” he said. “It was very difficult and very taxing, but did our very best to maintain control. We felt we did everything we could in terms of strategy and deployment.”
Buzzuro said the strategy worked for the most part during the days leading up to Saturday’s crescendo.
“Going into Saturday, we felt pretty comfortable with the level of control we were able to maintain,” he said. “We had flashpoints on Saturday, but when you look at the totality of the special event zone weekend, we had our moments, but we were able to maintain a high degree of control.”
There were 277 total arrests during the four-day stretch that began last Thursday, including 127 on Saturday alone. However, Buzzuro said most of the arrests were for fairly minor offenses and there was little significant crime.
“In the bigger picture, there was virtually no serious crime in the traditional sense in Ocean City all weekend,” he said. “With tens of thousands of people in town, it was mostly disorderly conduct and peace and good order types of crime we were able to maintain. Serious crime was virtually non-existent throughout the weekend.”
That being said, there were times during the weekend when the OCPD and its allied partners were basically under siege.
“We were having bottles and bricks thrown at us and there was concern for our safety,” he said. “When we look at the totality of the five or six days, it could have been a lot worse. We can’t walk away from this and we have to start planning for next year. That’s the best we can do. We will move on and we will look at everything. We have our marching orders from the community.”
Meehan said the town entered the pop-up car rally with a detailed and thorough plan and that plan worked for the most part save a few ugly incidents. He said the town did a good job with planning and the word got out to the participants.
“We followed through with everything we said we were going to do and I think that word spread quickly,” he said. “A lot of activity that took place in the past didn’t occur.”
Meehan reiterated the pop-up car rally in neither sanctioned nor welcomed, but the town and its police department have and will continue to plan for it in the future with even more resources.
“This is not what we want here,” he said. “This is not about the dollar. This is not what Ocean City is all about.”