- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH A few words of advice for those planning to visit this resort community: mind your language, think twice about those skimpy clothes and rein in those public displays of affection.

For the third consecutive year, this popular vacation city, east of the Norfolk Naval Base, is enforcing its strict "no profanity" law, and officials are reminding tourists and local residents of the law every chance they can.

Signs, bearing a cartoon symbol for a curse word inside a red circle with a diagonal line through it, are posted every 30 feet along Atlantic and Pacific avenues and other main streets. The rules also are printed in the middle of a local tourist coupon book, next to the foldout map of Virginia Beach.

The signs, which substitute a swirl, squiggly line, pound sign and two exclamation points for a curse word, ask visitors not to use vulgar gestures, engage in sexually explicit behavior, wear revealing clothes or disrupt the peaceful enjoyment of others.

The voluntary code of conduct is aimed at curbing lewdness and rowdiness among teens and young adults hanging out on the resort strip. Summer fun was getting out of hand in Virginia Beach, where tourism brings in $600 million a year, and tourism officials feared such behavior would have driven away families.

"We're concerned about the perception that Virginia Beach … is taking on this atmosphere that is not wholesome," said James B. Ricketts, director of convention and visitor development, told The Washington Times back in 2000, the year the code went into effect. City officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The signs have brought mixed feelings in this community.

Tourists, particularly those who have young children, are pleased to see the signs.

"I think it's really a sad state of affairs when a town has to put up signs saying that you shouldn't use that language," said Paula Wheeler, who was visiting from Connecticut with her husband and three young sons. "But I am glad they do it. It's a good thing."

But local residents said they don't take the law seriously.

Charlene Keyes, manager of Sunsations beachwear store on Ninth Street, said many locals feel it is all a joke. "The whole thing came about just because this is Pat Robertson's town," she said, referring to the nationally known conservative television evangelist. "We all laugh at it."

Others, like Liz Zachmeier, of Smithfield, Va., don't understand what the signs mean.

"It would be nice if they would explain them, but if that is what they are trying to do, than I am all for it," the mother of two said. "The last thing you want to hear when you go on vacation with your young kids is bad language. I just walk away when we do."

Some tourists questioned how well the laws were being enforced.

"Last night, we were walking on the boardwalk and these kids were [smoking marijuana]," said Jan Farber, of Richmond. "My children didn't realize it, but we just turned around and walked the other way. It's a great idea, but I don't think anyone pays attention to it."

Mary Bobbitt, a waitress at Planet Pizza, said while the rules may be lax now, she has seen them enforced during the summer months when many teenagers and college students are in town.

"A lot of girls will wear the thong bikinis or shirts that provoke sexual behavior, which can lead to harassment," Miss Bobbitt said. "I've seen them get arrested for it, too. We get a lot of drunk kids here, but the tourists, particularly the families, appreciate the law."

During the summer, officers will patrol the streets on horseback or on bikes to enforce the law. Police will arrest offenders if they are seen wearing inappropriate clothing or use curse words.

"I have seen people be forced to change their tops because of something that was written on them," said Kascandra Dougherty, a sales associate at the Ninth Street Sunsations. "I agree with the idea behind the law, because I think it has helped to make Virginia Beach a cleaner place. But sometimes I think they trample on freedom-of-speech issues."

Among the few who have responded negatively to the law are rowdy teenagers.

"Often rowdy kids will laugh at the law, and then start cursing up a storm in my face," said Trey Mailhes, an associate at Around the World Miniature Golf. "But this place is a lot nicer than it was several years ago, and I think they are doing the right thing. And the parents really appreciate it and take note."

Virginia Beach is one of the few resort towns in the mid-Atlantic region to run such a campaign.

Resort towns in Maryland and Delaware haven't taken such drastic steps yet, but have other ways of controlling nuisance behavior.

The Rehoboth Beach, Del., police chief sends detailed press releases to the hometowns of nuisance-crime offenders. The intention is to embarrass rowdy vacationers and prevent further high jinks. Police in Ocean City visit schools in Maryland and neighboring states over the winter to tutor students in proper beach behavior.

And police departments in virtually all area tourist meccas place more officers on the streets for the summer months.

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