Ocean City police ready for busiest weekend

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Fourth of July fireworks Fourth of July fireworks Stern warning issued on illegal fireworks

OCEAN CITY —The annual Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza will blast off at dark over the ocean near Tenth Street on Friday evening, July 4, and revelers are advised to position themselves accordingly. 

But those who stage their own pyrotechnic display could be in for a lot of trouble, according to police. In recent years, the island’s south end has become a hot spot for private exhibitions. Police promise a “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal fireworks.

Capt. Steve Ang, spokesman for the Ocean City Police Department, said there will be a full complement of officers on duty.

The Fourth of July holiday weekend has become, from a police standpoint, the “biggest event of the year” in volume of traffic and the number of visitors.

“It’s the biggest, Fourth of July is the busiest day of the year,” said Ang. “It’s the busiest 24 hour period of the busiest weekend.”

The Fourth of July surpasses even the popular Night in Venice, held later in July.

“Night in Venice was busier and then they were about the same in popularity for many years,” he said. “On Night in Venice we really concentrated our efforts on traffic control and drinking laws. We took complete control and it became a safer event.

“Over the years the alcohol laws became stricter and property owners began to realize their liability. Waterfront property owners don’t have the parties that they used to. With the economy, they don’t have the money and they don’t want the liability.”

Traffic on Night in Venice is spread throughout the day. On the Fourth of July, traffic is heavily concentrated between 3 and 6 p.m.

“You have the fireworks and then you have a mass exodus,” he said.

The red, white and blue holiday falls on Friday. Ang said the island will start to pop mid-week and build.

“It’s going to be a really big weekend,” he said. “It’s going to be very busy and very crowded.”

Zero tolerance will be in full force for other issues, such as underage drinking, speeding and parking throughout the weekend.

“The goal is to keep everyone safe,” he said. 

Private fireworks displays, he said, are a disaster waiting to happen.

“We will have every officer on duty,” he said. “Every officer will work at least a portion with the heaviest concentration during the evening. Our main focus will be on crowds and traffic.”

Police teams will be combing the beaches, and will be taking steps to prevent people from using illegal fireworks.

The OCPD, he said, is not looking to ruin anyone’s fun. Police had to start cracking down on illegal fireworks several years ago because the situation was getting out of control.

“It’s unfortunate,” he said. The south end beaches became a free-for-all for illegal displays, attracting large crowds. Some felt justified because south end residents and viewers cannot see the city-sponsored event very well, but others felt victimized.

“We had people calling us, people who live on the beachfront, reaching out for help,” he said. “People were setting off illegal fireworks on the beach and the people who live on the beach or are staying on the beach feared that their homes would catch on fire or one of their family members would be injured or badly burned.

“That’s the concern, fire or injury, it can’t be ignored,” he said.

State law dictates that individuals can’t set off fireworks and Ang said the police will be actively enforcing the law.

Privately purchased fireworks can be deadly, he said, as the quality and reliability cannot be guaranteed.

“They can be very dangerous, they pack a lot of firepower and you have to be trained to use them properly,” he said. “They reach excessive temperatures and can cause burns, in the worst case scenario, death. We want to prevent that.”

Ang said fines run up to $1,000 and possibly six months in jail for illegal fireworks. Police handle situations on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes police simply confiscate the illegal pyrotechnics.

“Some form of action will be taken, they are illegal,” he said. “You have been warned.”

For decades, the city hosted the fireworks display on the beach at Sixth Street. Moving them to a barge about a quarter mile from shore was “a real positive” from a police standpoint, he said.

“We used to have to concentrate a lot of officers at Sixth Street,” he said. “We had to close down part of the boardwalk for a while. You had a lot of people in a very small area, the viewing area was limited.

“With the fireworks out over the ocean, you can see them from the point of the north end all the way down to 34th Street and that has helped a lot. You don’t have everyone concentrated in one area. The barge has been a pleasure for the police department.”

Celebrate, he said, cautiously.

 “We want everyone to be safe,” he said.  “Remember, it’s going to be crowded. Take your time. Pay attention to your surroundings. Be patient. Expect the unexpected. Be courteous.”


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