Report Confirms School Calendars Critical To Beach Patrol’s Season

OCEAN CITY — It’s no secret the Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) is made up largely of students, teachers and even college professors, but the extent to which the department relies on those who return to school each late summer was not really known until the results of a recent study were revealed this month.

While it certainly provides for a highly educated and talented OCBP, it does create challenges. With the number of members, particularly high-ranking officers, many of whom are teachers or college professors, along with the rank-and-file, many of whom are students, the dramatic exodus in mid- to late August each summer creates challenges for the department. Of course, the same thing occurs to a large degree in the private sector, with waves of summer employees leaving for school in the waning weeks of summer each year, but the report prepared by Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald illustrates just how acute the problem is for the Beach Patrol.

Theobald prepared the report at the request of Mayor and Acting City Manager Rick Meehan, who along with legislative supporters are prepping for another attempt at a mandated post-Labor Day start to the school year in Maryland.

Last year, the bill never got any real traction in the General Assembly, but its supporters are already preparing for another run in the upcoming session. To that end, Meehan is leaving no stone unturned in gathering data and information to support the change, including the overwhelming number of OCBP officers who return to school as early as mid-August each year.

Theobald presented his findings regarding the OCBP to the Police Commission last Wednesday and the results were eye-opening. Starting at the top, Captain Butch Arbin is an educator in the Charles County public school system and two lieutenants are educators. Of the 12 OCBP sergeants currently on staff, eight are educators and two are college professors. There are 18 crew chiefs, of which eight are educators and one is a college professor. In terms of the 17 assistant crew chiefs, 10 are students.

“As you can see, almost the entire staff is in the education system in one way or another,” Theobald told the Police Commission last Wednesday. “The majority of the supervising staff are educators, and most of the guards are students.”

A look at the total number of Surf Rescue Technicians (SRTs) working the beach further illustrates the annual late summer drain. For example, in the first week of August, the chart shows over 120 SRTs on the beach and that figure held fairly steady until about mid-August. Starting on Aug. 16 this year, the number of OCBP crewmembers working the beach begins a rather dramatic free fall toward the end of summer.

By Aug. 30, the number had dropped to around 50 and by Labor Day Monday, which was the latest it could be this year, the number of SRTs had dipped to below 40. A different chart reveals the decline in another way. For example, on Aug. 9, just three SRTs had left to return to school. By Aug. 21, 25 percent of the ranks had left and a week later on Aug. 28, the number had dropped by 50 percent. On the last day of the season on Sept. 27, the number of SRTs had dropped to just 11, or in other terms, was about 91 percent less than where it had been a month earlier.

Meehan is hoping the data might reinforce the notion of a post-Labor Day school start. Theobald said the numbers seem to bear that out.

“Beginning in August, we start losing guards mostly for education reasons,” he said. “This is nothing new. We make it work, but this is something that will never change.”