BERLIN – Town officials could soon be reviewing Berlin’s laws regarding skateboarding following concerns voiced by community members.
The Berlin Police Department’s recent confiscation of some skateboards prompted spirited debate on social media this week regarding the activity. While some cited safety issues created by kids skateboarding where they shouldn’t, including along Main Street, others used the opportunity to advocate again for a Berlin skatepark.
“Maybe it’s another great catalyst for the eventuality of a skatepark,” said Tony Weeg, the Berlin resident spearheading a new effort to bring a skatepark to town.
Police Chief Arnold Downing confirmed this week his officers had recently confiscated some skateboards, a longstanding practice to address children skateboarding where they shouldn’t be.
“We’re working off complaints from downtown businesses more than anything else,” he said, adding that benches, sandwich boards and shrubbery had been damaged.
There have also been kids skateboarding on private property and down the middle of the street, he said. They shouldn’t be skateboarding downtown, as they’re not allowed to skateboard on state roads, which include William Street, Main Street, Broad Street and Old Ocean City Boulevard.
“All those streets have a lot of vehicular traffic and that’s dangerous,” Downing said, adding that cars parked along those streets blocked skateboarders from view and made it hard for motorists to see them.
Resident Austin Purnell said he recently had a close call driving past the Atlantic Hotel when a kid fell off his skateboard.
“The board shot under my truck,” he said. “Luckily nobody was hurt.”
Resident Laura Stearns also has safety concerns associated with skateboarding downtown, particularly on Broad Street and Main Street. She believes the town needs a skatepark to provide kids with a safe place to go.
Weeg, who’s creating a nonprofit to help raise money for a skatepark in Berlin, also believes a facility like that would help.
“No one in the skateboarding community condones the destruction of property,” he said.
While there may be a few bad apples, he said a skatepark would give local kids a place to burn off energy with their skateboards.
“It’s not just kids,” he added. “I know 65-year-old men that would like to skate around and don’t because it’s not allowed.”
He said the town code regarding skateboarding was likely outdated, as it was developed in the 1990s, and suggested officials review it to see if there were any changes that could be made. Mayor Zack Tyndall said that was a definite possibility.
“We can take a look at what’s in place,” he said.
As for the police, Downing said the department supports skateboarding as an activity, just as it supports other sports.
“We know it’s just as much of a sport as football and baseball,” he said.
Downing said that officers temporarily confiscate skateboards when necessary in order to get kids and their parents to come to the police department to get them back. When they come, Downing talks about what is and isn’t allowed and tries to have a positive interaction with them.
“We tell them we’re supportive of anything done in a safe environment,” he said.
Downing said the department has seen more issues involving juveniles during the past year as the pandemic has kept kids out of schools and given them too much free time. In addition to some problems associated with skateboarding, there have been reports of shoplifting, turned over portable toilets, toilet papered trees and, most recently, vandalism at Heron Park. Between 40 and 50 signs were vandalized — primarily thrown into the ponds — within the past week.
According to Downing, there were three skateboard violations in the first quarter of 2020. During the same time period this year, there were 11. In 2019, there were three skateboard violations. In 2020, there were 13. There have been 11 so far in 2021.
Downing said that while Berlin is safe enough that parents don’t worry when their kids go downtown, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t communicate with them regularly.
“Cell phones are prevalent,” he said. “Call them. See who they’re with. Parents need to know where their children are.”