OCEAN CITY — For several months, Ocean City public safety officials have been getting out in front of a planned beach week event next weekend that has a troubled past including discussions with the event promoter and bringing in extra law enforcement resources.
Local businesses officially learned of the planned “College Beach Week” event in early May when Ocean City Communications Director Jessica Waters and Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) Executive Director Susan Jones sent a letter to members alerting them of the city’s approach to the event and June in general.
“In an effort to keep communications open, we are reaching out regarding the month of June. Returning the weekend of June 5-7, 2015 will be College Beach Week. The Town of Ocean City has taken a proactive approach and met with the event organizer. They have communicated to them, as well as other groups, that they are welcome as long as they obey the same rules everyone else is expected to obey,” the letter reads. “Rest assured, there is a coordinated effort among surrounding agencies to maintain peace and order throughout June.”
The letter then seeks information from members about specific guest requests for room blocks, adjoining rooms, atypical reservation bookings, planned events and any surges or cancellations in reservations. The letter essentially fosters a partnership between the city and private business to maintain essential communication in advance of the event, such as the names of any hired security companies.
On the heels of that letter, Ocean City Police Captain Kevin Kirstein, who heads the department’s patrol division, reached out to local restaurateurs later in May with an outreach effort to secure food vouchers for law enforcement that will be in town next weekend assisting Ocean City police. In the letter, he thanked the business community for its outstanding response, including hotels that have offered free rooms to responding Maryland State Police troopers. The letter outlines a food voucher program where each trooper would be given a dinner ticket for June 5 and breakfast, lunch and dinner tickets for June 6.
“I will provide a list of participating restaurants and times to each trooper receiving meal tickets. Participating restaurants would agree to provide each meal, collect the meal ticket and submit it to the OCPD for reimbursement (including gratuity…,” wrote Kirstein, who added the reimbursement rates would be $7 for breakfast, $12 for lunch and $20 for dinner.
Last summer, on the same first weekend in June, an event organized by the same private promoter was called “College Takeover Beach Week,” which based off social media hype and planned attendees’ online postings was to be a large gathering in Ocean City. The concept of any sort of “takeover” was enough to raise serious concerns on the island and nearby areas.
As a result of crime concerns, such as vandalism, burglaries and serious violence, from a similarly themed event in Virginia Beach the previous summer, private businesses ramped up security personnel and Ocean City police made a concerted effort to have a “highly visible police presence and proactive enforcement,” according to Police Chief Ross Buzzuro.
Despite a 27-percent increase in the total number of arrests from the period of Thursday, June 5-Monday, June 9, 2014, compared to the same stretch in 2013, the OCPD reported no major incidents and most arrests were typical of the time of year. Total arrests were up considerably, however, from 173 in 2013 to 219 in 2014, as were drug arrests, which increased 23 percent in 2014, from 62 to 76. DUI arrests were flat at 18 as were weapon arrests at 23.
Calls for service jumped 8 percent for the weekend, from 1,185 in 2013 to 1,285 in 2014. Peak calls for service came on Saturday when 358 were recorded. During the same weekend in 2013, according to the OCPD, the peak service call day recorded 331 calls.
For its part, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office released numerous crime reports from the weekend but none were of a serious nature and zero felony arrests were reported.
It was by all accounts a typical June weekend in Ocean City with some rowdiness but nothing unusual. Nonetheless, despite that fact, Ocean City is taking advanced preparations ahead of next weekend and has been so for months.
Waters confirmed Friday the city has been meeting with the event organizer and reported communication started over the winter.
“We have had an open line of communication with the College Beach Week organizers since the event last year. We met in March and discussed their ideas and our expectations. The event organizers have been courteous and professional and have expressed their goals to have a successful and safe event in Ocean City,” Waters said. “Because the month of June historically brings our younger visitors, both college aged and recent high school graduations, we [the town] will certainly prepare accordingly. Like many of our other events in Ocean City, both formal and informal, we are planning and preparing for this event and any incident that may arise. We’re optimistic that the majority of people that are planning to come to Ocean City throughout the month of June are here to enjoy the beach and everything our town has to offer. Those that come with other intentions will be met with no tolerance and strict enforcement.”
A text to the event promoter’s phone loop received a return message of, “It’s officially back!!!! Beach Week in Ocean City. Come Enjoy The Weekend June 5th-7th. Visit partyheadzdc.com For More Details On Beach Week…” However, there is little to be found on the website with event details as far as organized activities.
Waters said the city’s official position is to approach next weekend like it would any other during the month of June when thousands of high school graduates come to Ocean City to celebrate their accomplishments for a week or shorter stays. These graduates mix with the larger arrival of college students coming to Ocean City to celebrate as well and to begin their summer employment. The early part of the month is typically reserved for the younger lot as a majority of vacationing families traditionally hold off their visits till school-aged children are out of school for longer stays.
Waters said the city is well aware of what June brings to the shore and a “June behavior action plan has been a priority on the town’s Strategic Plan and something the police department has been planning and preparing for throughout the off-season. I know they have a very comprehensive plan ready …” She added it’s important for the public to know the majority of people who come to Ocean City do not intend to cause trouble and are simply here to enjoy the beach, Boardwalk and other amenities.
“June is a busy month, and brings a lot of young visitors to our resort community,” Waters said. “We are definitely preparing for the weekend like many other June weekends. We expect to be extremely busy but we [public safety officials specifically] are prepared for the intended influx. We want all of our residents and visitors to know that their safety, as always, is our top priority. During the month of June, or anytime rather, we welcome all of our visitors with the expectation that they will be safe, respectful and abide by our laws and ordinances.”
Ocean City Police Public Affairs Specialist Lindsay Richard said the OCPD is expecting a similar turnout for the “College Beach Week” next weekend as last year.
“At this time, we are expecting a very similar turnout to what we saw in 2014. Citizens should expect a busy June weekend as there are numerous other large events set for that weekend,” she said. “Town officials have had an open line of communication with the College Beach Week organizers since the event last year and our Intel Unit has been closely monitoring the event since early this winter. We are preparing for this event the same way we prepare for many other events that impact our manpower and utilize our resources and we are working with our allied agencies again this year. We have a very comprehensive strategic plan ready that includes an increased officer presence and high visibility similar to what citizens saw in 2014.”