Ocean City readies for the June Bug CRIMES OF DISORDER


Ocean City -- JUNE BUG season officially opens today, and Ocean City has a new repellent: tenacity.

Police say there won't be an "anything goes" atmosphere in Maryland's premier resort town during Beach Week this year.

They claim they won't let it happen.

They have plans: increased patrols, a new traffic safety unit, a resumption of last year's no-warnings arrest policy for noise violators and an overall crackdown on what Ocean City folks call "crimes of disorder" -- things like sleeping in strangers' front yards, urinating off balconies and nude wrestling.

"People are going to find out that we enforce the laws here," says Police Chief David Massey. "People come down here and do things they wouldn't do in their home communities because the police there wouldn't tolerate it. The police here aren't going to, either. I don't think there should be a double standard."

Ocean City's new strategy will certainly come as a welcome relief to parents of high schoolers -- not to mention the resort's year-round residents, some of whom are retired. They've been grumbling for years about being wakened in the middle of the night by the blaring strains of Guns 'n' Roses or Bon Jovi.

But can police really put the skids on what has long been a yearly tradition?

It's not likely.

Not in a year. Probably not in five years.

The fact is, crimes of disorder are as entrenched in Ocean City during June as drug dealing and gang violence are in other cities.

The typical example: Police raid a group of 100 kids having a beer party at a street end. The kids run onto the beach. Police are called to a beer party at another street end. The kids return.

When the June Bug infestation is at its peak and the 4.5-square-mile resort has 250,000 inhabitants, police are often reduced to the finger-in-the-dike strategy.

Talk to Ocean City's veteran officers, and they'll tell you about a type of crime that officials find difficult to counteract. Sgt. John Whittington recalls breaking up a noisy party last year at a two-bedroom apartment and counting 104 intoxicated kids.

"With just a couple of officers dealing with that many kids, anything could happen," he said. Another officer, Barry Neeb, says it's common to find kids during June who are "so drunk they can't even remember their names until the next morning. A common question when we arrest the semi-coherent is, 'Where are we going?' I've seen people wake up in jail and think they're still in Baltimore."

Maryland's beach resort may not have had a murder in four years, but whenever a quarter-million people decide to visit, crime -- Ocean City-style -- is inevitable.

Police can only do what police elsewhere do: keep plugging away.

What city fathers are really trying to do is change Ocean City's image -- change the reason people go "downy ayshin" every June after school lets out. And it's not clear if people are really willing to accept that.

L Which is something Massey understands, despite his optimism.

"Just as the image that anything goes here in Ocean City developed over a period of time, it's going to take a little time to reverse that," he says. "But we're moving in the right direction."

The final verdict on the new get-tough policy will be rendered by the public, though, not by the city.

James Lilliefors and Marcie Alvarado write from Ocean City.

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