With no guidance from state AG, Ocean City Beach Patrol, police will turn blind eye to topless women

OCEAN CITY, Maryland — Absent a formal opinion from the Maryland Attorney General’s Office on the legality of women going topless in the same areas where men are allowed to go shirtless, the Ocean City Beach Patrol announced this week that it will turn a blind eye on the issue, according to a report in the Maryland Coast Dispatch.

Last August, Maryland resident Chelsea Covington asked Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby to contact the Maryland Attorney General’s Office for an opinion on the legality of women going topless in the same areas where men can go shirtless under the Equal Protection Act. Covington, an advocate for women’s toplessness through the TopFreedom initiative, often goes topless in public places in Maryland, including Ocean City.

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office has yet to hand down a formal opinion on the issue, and reportedly hasn’t set any directives on how law enforcement agencies should handle the issue in the meantime. That leaves the Ocean City Beach Patrol and the Ocean City Police Department to handle the issue carefully, attempting to respect the rights of women who choose to go topless and visitors who might be offended.

According to the Dispatch, three women were reportedly sunbathing topless on the Ocean City beach at 11th Street.

“The bottom line is that according to the attorney general, there’s no enforceable law on the books that prohibits topless females,” Ocean City Beach Patrol captain Butch Arbin told the Dispatch. “Personally, I don’t think it is good for Ocean City or the females that wish to visit an All-American city, but we only enforce laws and ordinances. Therefore, our staff has been given specific direction on this issue.”

Arbin issued a policy statement to the OCBP last week. Dated retroactively to May 20, the statement says the Beach Patrol will carefully document complaints of female toplessness on the beach, but will not approach women who exercise their apparent right to go topless.

The statement says the OCBP will continue to enforce laws currently on the books. So if a woman’s toplessness creates a scene or an incident escalates, it could fall under other ordinances like disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct.

“Violations of any other ordinance or law will be enforced as our policy and procedure dictates,” the statement says. “In addition, exposing genitals for either male or female is clearly considered indecent exposure and is a violation of state law. In such a case, we are to request of the violator that they cover those areas, and, if necessary, we will request assistance from the Ocean City Police Department.

“If the complaint results in a confrontation between the parties, we will intervene to ensure it does not escalate and request an area supervisor,” the statement continues. “If at any time the situation appears to become physical, we will request police assistance. If at any time the complaintant requests (a police) response, then we will make that request on their behalf through Ocean City communications.”

For her part, Covington said the beach patrol’s proactive approach represented a refreshing turn of events in the ongoing debate.

“I am quite pleased to hear the Ocean City Beach Patrol is training its staff to treat women and men equally,” she told the Dispatch. “I trust the Ocean City Police Department will follow the same guidance and join the many states and municipalities around the country that already recognize female bare-chestedness to be a legal and healthy act.”

Meanwhile, the OCPD also has not received any formal directive from the OAG and will continue its stated policy of being cognizant of rights of all involved, with the emphasis on “all.”

Two weeks ago, OCPD Public Information Officer Lindsay Richard said the department was exploring all of the enforcement alternatives while it awaited a formal directive and that policy has not changed.

Source: Maryland Coast Dispatch