Speigle drove past, then turned around. The teens became visibly nervous. Minutes later, four of them were pouring about a case and a half of Budweiser and Bud Light down a street drain, and the two who had admitted to owning the beer had been given alcohol citations.
A few of the Police Department's newest seasonal officers — not much older than the teens being cited — stood by, helping Speigle take down the teens' driver's license information.
If this summer is anything like past summers, Speigle and his fellow officers in this buzzing vacation town will issue hundreds more alcohol citations before the end of August. After that, they'll hand out maybe a dozen for the rest of the year, and a few after that until June rolls around again.
When it comes to crime in Ocean City, police statistics show the same three-month spike year after year. In the summer, when Ocean City goes from a town of about 7,400 year-round residents to a town the size of Pittsburgh, with about 350,000 revelers on a given weekend, crimes that are rarely seen here rise dramatically. Calls to 911 reporting disorderly conduct, for instance, jumped from a few dozen most months last year to nearly 1,600 in June.
More crime not only impacts the victims and the community but also taxes the relatively small police department. Every year the force undertakes the logistical feat of rapidly doubling its ranks by recruiting and training seasonal officers who wield full police powers — including the right to carry handguns.
"We're the second-largest city in the state in the summertime, second only to Baltimore," said Chief Bernadette DiPino, a former Baltimore County police officer who has been with the Ocean City Police Department for 24 years, including nine as chief. "We prepare for the summer all year long."
The most crucial of those preparations, DiPino said, are the department's recruiting efforts.
Each summer, the Police Department, about 100 members strong in the winter, recruits about 100 additional seasonal officers to patrol the town, many of them criminal justice majors at East Coast colleges and universities.
"For an agency our size, you wouldn't think we need to do a lot of recruiting, but we actually do as much recruiting as the major metropolitan police departments," DiPino said.
That dynamic makes Ocean City unique. A special state legislative allowance, on the books for decades, allows the Police Department to fully deputize officers after a four-week training period. Full-time officers in the state train for about six months.
Many of the seasonal officers are college students getting a dose of policing between semesters to determine whether they want to pursue a police career. Many of the force's full-time officers got their start on the seasonal roster. Other seasonal alumni include Salisbury Police Chief Barbara Duncan and U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who worked as a seasonal officer in 1967 and 1968.
Ruppersberger, who also was a member of the Ocean City Beach Patrol for years and has a condominium in Ocean City today, said he remembers those summers as a wild time, living with fellow seasonal cops, breaking up fights and pulling "stoned" teenagers off the boardwalk. But he said the experience also strongly impacted his life, helping lead him to a career in law.
"You sure grow up real quick when you're a police officer in Ocean City," he said.
The seasonal officers' youth and lack of experience require a degree of supervision from the department's full-timers, and some don't remain in the program. But the program has a strong track record for producing high-performing officers, Speigle said.
"It's a great advantage," Speigle said of the program, and how it prepares the next generation of officers. "We use it kind of as a tool for hiring people. We use it to gauge their performance."
According to Cpl. Scott Bernal, who has been with the Ocean City Police Department for 23 years, the seasonal officers have become more critical than ever as the town has grown busier with a burgeoning tourist industry. Even winters are losing their calm, he said.
"It used to be we were really dead in the winter," Bernal said. "We're not anymore."
Still, nothing compares to the summer surge, he said. This Memorial Day weekend, when hundreds of thousands of people came through town, was the single busiest weekend Bernal can remember, he said.