Nation & World

Topless sunbathers: Beach cops in Ocean City are looking the other way

Women who took off their tops on the sunny sands at Ocean City, Md., used to risk a sunburn and a “hey, you can’t do that” from the beach cops. Not anymore, at least for now.
Women who took off their tops on the sunny sands at Ocean City, Md., used to risk a sunburn and a “hey, you can’t do that” from the beach cops. Not anymore, at least for now. AP file photo

Women who took off their tops on the sunny sands at Ocean City, Md., used to risk a sunburn and a “hey, you can’t do that” from the beach cops.

Not anymore, at least for now.

Until they get legal direction on topless sunbathing from Maryland’s attorney general, beach patrols at Ocean City are simply going to look the other way when they see half-naked women on the beach.

Last August, local authorities sought an opinion from the state AG’s office about whether women can legally go topless in the same beach areas men are allowed to shirk their shirts.

Topless advocate Chelsea Covington instigated the request, asking Worcester County’s state’s attorney to examine the law. The state’s attorney pushed the issue up the pipeline to the state attorney general.

A new summer season has begun, and because the AG’s office hasn’t responded, members of the Ocean City Beach Patrol this week were told to leave topless women on the beach alone, according to WBOC in Ocean City.

Capt. Butch Arbin instructed beach patrol members to document complaints but not to approach topless women, even if other beach patrons ask them to, the TV station reported.

“For the 44 years I’ve been guarding the beach in Ocean City, when we’d see people topless on the beach we would just tell them, ‘Hey, you can’t do that,’” Arbin told WBOC.

“But since ... the Maryland attorney general’s office hasn’t issued their opinion on it, we don’t feel like we can tell people not to sunbathe topless.”

Covington, a member of the TopFreedom movement that advocates changing laws to allow women to go topless where men have that same right in public, told local media the beach patrol’s hands-off decision is a baby step in the right direction.

“I am quite pleased to hear the Ocean City Beach Patrol is training its staff to treat women and men equally,” she told the The Maryland Coast Dispatch.

“In light of this new normal, I ask people to consider their feelings on equality, body positivity, shaming and the hyper-sexualization of the American female body. Female breasts are normal and healthy. I look forward to a future in which all Americans are treated equally under the law, not just in this regard but in all regards.”

News about the new directive appears to have gotten out. Three women were reported enjoying the beach, breasts exposed, over the weekend, the Coast Dispatch reported.

Arbin told the newspaper that without any formal guidance from the attorney general’s office, his patrol officers are working under the assumption that Maryland’s laws about such public nudity are nebulous and difficult to enforce.

In his more than four decades of working the beach he has just asked topless women to cover up. In 99 percent of the cases, he told the Coast Dispatch, the women were foreign visitors who happily complied.

“Personally,” Arbin said, “I don’t think it is good for Ocean City or the families that wish to visit an all-American city, but we only enforce the laws and ordinances.”

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