OCEAN CITY — Among the biggest takeaways from the town’s latest motorized special event task force meeting last Friday was the need for private businesses to provide more security on their own properties.
The motorized special event task force reconvened last Friday for the first time in several months to begin planning for a series of sanctioned and unsanctioned special events in the coming months. While there was some discussion on the upcoming spring Cruisin event, the focus was largely on the unsanctioned pop-up car rally expected in September.
After a particularly troublesome motorized special event season a few years ago, Ocean City formed the task force to begin exploring strategies to address some of the lawlessness and abject bad behavior associated with some of the participants.
Out of those early sessions came the creation of a special event zone with increased penalties and other fines. Those early sessions also led to an increased police presence in town during certain special events in partnership with allied law enforcement agencies along with a stronger partnership between the town and its residents and business owners.
Still, those early measures, which did achieve some successes, were not enough as the lawlessness and reckless behavior continued and even worsened in some cases, particularly with the unsanctioned pop-up social media-driven event. Last September, the pop-up car rally, as it is now being referred, brought huge crowds of largely unruly, disrespectful visitors that wreaked havoc on Ocean City for the better part of four days as expected.
Ocean City, its police department and its allied partners were perhaps as best prepared as ever heading into the pop-up car rally week with an enhanced special event zone law, a beefed-up towing ordinance, altered traffic patterns and road closures and all manner of equipment and resources on hand.
Those combined measures worked to a large degree for much of the weekend, but despite the thankless efforts of law enforcement and first-responders, the pop-up car rally was nonetheless an unmitigated disaster by Saturday night. As Ocean City and its partners ramped up their enforcement efforts, a large majority of the pop-up car rally enthusiasts ratcheted up their unruliness in kind.
Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Chief Ross Buzzuro said during Friday’s task force meeting his department and its allied partners have been planning for the expected pop-up car rally to return in September.
“We’re five months out and we’ve been looking at this since the 2020 event,” he said. “We’re taking our operation from last year and tweaking it out. We’ll be out in full force. Collectively, we’ll be ready. Everything we did last year will be bigger and better this year.”
During last September’s pop-up event, the special event zone, with its enhanced penalties, was expanded to the major thoroughfares in northern Worcester County throughout the week. At a task force meeting last fall, members urged state officials to ramp up enforcement along the highways leading to the resort. Last Friday, Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Greg Slater said those plans were in the works.
“We’re going to have a traffic safety week statewide, one in the spring and one in the fall,” he said. “We have grant funding for overtime for extra law enforcement. It will be a bay to beach highway safety week.”
Council Secretary Tony DeLuca summarized last September’s pop-up rally and urged the state to consider expanding its speed bump or speed hump program in the resort. Last fall, speed bumps were tested on certain known troublesome side streets in the resort, but DeLuca said it could be time to test some on Coastal Highway.
“Here’s a summary of last year,” he said. “On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the things we did were really successful. Saturday was really terrible. SHA almost said yes to speed bumps at certain locations on Coastal Highway.”
One of the tools in the motorized event toolbox discussed on Friday was the OCPD’s Trespass Enforcement Authorization Program, or TEAP, in which business owners allow law enforcement to come on private property to enforce laws and resolve situations, particularly when businesses are closed. It was revealed around 200 private businesses have signed up for the program.
Another issue discussed was the need for private businesses to provide security on their own properties, allowing the OCPD and its allied partners to focus on the problems on the streets. Many do provide their own security during the motorized events, but DeLuca said there is need for more.
“We need to emphasize each hotel, condo and business, especially on Baltimore Avenue, need to have extra security,” the chief said said. “If you’re closed, you need to get your application in to allow police to come onto your property.”
Mayor Rick Meehan agreed with the need for more security on private property.
“We need to address private property not having sufficient security,” he said. “It can be expensive to have, but it’s a must have. They can’t operate a business on a large scale and expect the OCPD to pick up the pieces. There are some businesses with no security and that’s just not acceptable.”
Another problem identified during the task force meeting last week were the large groups of rowdy individuals on hotel and motel balconies egging on the illicit behavior, particularly along Baltimore Avenue.
Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones told the task force many of her members had success with private-sector security guards and said the plan was to bring in even more next year, akin to bringing in more law enforcement officers from other areas. Jones said many of the unruly participants and spectators during the pop-up rally responded better to private security then law enforcement.
“Some motel owners told us their guests respected security officers even more than the police,” she said. “That’s just the way society is today.”
Worcester County State’s Attorney Kris Heiser agreed the private sector needed to support law enforcement now more than ever.
“Law enforcement has had a really hard year,” she said. “It’s nice to see a community spend all of this time and effort to support law enforcement.”