Ocean City Better Prepared This Year For Car Rally; Resort Police, Promoter Working Together On ‘Very Busy Weekend’
OCEAN CITY – As the bugs make their way into town for the annual H20i event, the Ocean City Police Department is preparing to control crowds by partnering with private properties and continuing to keep a working relationship with the event organizer.
The 17th Annual H20 International (H20i) event is a two-day VW/Audi rally that will be held this weekend at Fort Whaley Campground off Route 50 where, according to event organizer Jay Shoup, an average 800 to 1,000 cars are registered to be shown. However, the unsanctioned event with Ocean City will draw thousands of spectators to the resort where cars and spectators gather in parking lots and along Coastal Highway.
“We are having very little luck in finding any vacancies this weekend, so it should be a very busy weekend,” Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones said. “We have certainly seen an increase in import cars come in for this weekend’s unsanctioned event, and we can just tell from looking out our windows it is increasing day by day.”
Last year, the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) reported a total of 2,207 calls for service between officers and citizens, and between traffic stops, traffic citations, and traffic warnings, there was a total of 1,584 traffic enforcement actions. There were also a total of 14 alcohol citations, 53 total arrests, seven drug arrests, four weapon arrests and seven DUI arrests.
Crime statistics jumped for the 2013 event compared to the 2012 event when there were 1,658 calls for service, 901 total traffic enforcement actions, seven alcohol citations, 78 total arrests, 26 drug arrests, five weapon arrests and nine DUI arrests.
For the 2011 event, crime statistics reported 1,244 calls for service, 541 total traffic enforcement actions, nine alcohol citations, 56 total arrests, 20 drug arrests, one weapon arrest and four DUI arrests.
In 2010, crime statistics reflected 1,195 total calls for service, 438 total traffic enforcement actions, seven alcohol citations, 39 total arrests, 11 drug arrests, zero weapon arrests and five DUI arrests.
Following last year’s event and an increase in associated problems, particularly those requiring law enforcement’s attention, the Police Commission sat down to discuss the impact H20i has on Ocean City. At that time, Mayor Rick Meehan recognized the value in H20i drawing visitors to Ocean City during the shoulder season. However, he recognized it is an unsanctioned event with Ocean City meaning there are no special event permits submitted to the city covering in-kind services, such as police labor and trash pick-up.
Meehan also recognized certain private properties within Ocean City have taken it upon themselves to serve as venues for the event, such as 45th Street Village, that were not being responsible for crowd control or trash collection.
OCPD Captain Kevin Kirstein reported the department had been keeping a record of private properties where the vehicles gather and were going to be in contact with those property owners following last year’s event.
OCPD Lt. Scott Harner reported to the commission that he had met and planned to keep in contact with Shoup to keep a working relationship between the town and the event even though the town has nothing to do with it.
As the vehicles are making their way into Ocean City, OCPD Public Affairs Specialist Lindsay O’Neal said this week, OCPD has been in contact with a number of businesses in preparation for this event.
“We are very lucky to have such a great partnership with many members of the local business community and many property owners in town and that has been evident during this fall event season,” O’Neal said.
According to O’Neal, the Town had enacted a “Trespass Authorization Enforcement Act” that many businesses have already expressed interest in. This program is a partnership with business owners where they enlist the police’s help to act on their behalf in the event that someone is trespassing on their private property while the business is closed and they are away from the property.
“We have also been contacted by many of the businesses that host their own events and have been requested to assist them in keeping their property and their event safe and successful,” O’Neal furthered. “Also, as is the case with any event that brings a large number of people to our town, sponsored by the city or not, we have been in close contact with event organizers and will remain in contact with them throughout the event.”
Meehan confirmed the town has remained in contact with Shoup, who has agreed to schedule the event around other Town of Ocean City events and private sanctioned events to avoid chaos.
“The event organizer is trying to work with the police department and the town to minimize some of the impact of this event on other events that take place in the fall season,” said the mayor, adding there has not been discussion with Shoup over making H20i a sanctioned event in Ocean City. “We just want them to obey the same rules that we ask everybody else to obey. Like some of the other events, as they have grown, what we have seen is some of the problems are with the spectators not just the cars themselves. Spectators encourage cars to speed by or to burn out … They [OCPD] are very aware of it, and they will be out in full force this weekend to make sure that they can do their best to ensure that everybody adheres to the laws, and that we keep everybody here safe. We are certainly hoping that those that do come for the event make an effort to minimize the impact that they have on the communities and on others while they are here in Ocean City.”
Shoup confirmed on Wednesday that he has no plans to make H20i a sanctioned event in Ocean City.
“There is no reason for me to sanction the event in Ocean City because the event is not held in Ocean City. My event has always been outside of the city. The people that choose to come, whether it is a spectator or a participant, they have the choice where to stay,” he said. “As far as my putting forth efforts to control crowds, that is near impossible. The event as a whole is not the problem. As we have discussed in these meetings [with town officials], the event at Fort Whaley campground has never had an issue, so unfortunately whatever issues Ocean City is incurring is based off of the individuals that are staying in Ocean City.”
Shoup has made an effort to continuously release Public Safety Announcements (PSAs) and information provided by the OCPD though social media and the event’s website.
“I don’t support, promote or produce an event in Ocean City, but I work closely with the police department and city officials to try to improve participants’ behavior but again these are individuals. I can’t control everybody,” he said. “We need to focus on the positive. This event produces good business for Ocean City on this weekend. The thing that we need to remember that there is a bad apple in every bunch and unfortunately we can’t control them all but focusing on the positive will help alleviate some problems.”