- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 20, 2004

OCEAN CITY — The thing that really gets your blood pumping is turning on the lights and sirens.

That’s what Gene Brimmer, a 36-year-old investigator for the New York state inspector general found out on his first emergency call here as a seasonal police officer in Maryland’s most popular vacation destination.

Alone in his patrol car and flying down Baltimore Avenue on his way to a fight, Mr. Brimmer wondered whether he would be able to handle himself after just 3 weeks of training as a law-enforcement officer. He remembers he was surprised to see so many drivers scrambling out of the way of his screaming cruiser.

Every summer, Ocean City police double their usual 100-member force with these quickly anointed officers who help protect the 300,000 visitors who swarm the resort — normally a tranquil town of 8,000.

The seasonal officers come mostly from Maryland and Pennsylvania, although some live as far away as Ohio and Michigan. Most are in college, studying criminal justice and trying to get a head start on a law-enforcement career.

But there also are professors, teachers and lawyers who are curious about police work and want to take advantage of a program that lets you work as an officer after less than a month of training.

Organizers emphasize that the training is intense and that it includes classroom lessons as well as practical exercises. And the force weeds out about 85 percent of those who apply.

This year, organizers turned down 500 would-be trainees after interviews, criminal background checks and psychological screenings.

Seasonal officers mostly handle “peace and good order calls” — domestic disturbances, underage drinkers, traffic stops, fights, drunks and “disorderlies.” They can be the first to arrive on an emergency call, and they’re authorized to handle calls alone. They’re armed, and they have the powers of academy-graduated officers.

The seasonals are taught how to preserve a crime scene and gather witnesses, but the drills stop short of showing them how to interrogate people.

“It’s important to tell them we’re not going to train them in three weeks how to investigate a homicide, but would they be the first person on the scene at a homicide? Absolutely,” said Barry Neeb, an Ocean City police spokesman who came to the department as a seasonal officer in 1980.

The force depends heavily on the seasonal officers, a mainstay since the 1950s, to handle the 600 to 700 daily summertime calls, Mr. Neeb said.

The long days of training — 178 hours in 3 weeks — prepare trainees as much as possible for their first shift on the road.

“You can only cover so much in class,” said trainee Steve Nesbit, a 21-year-old criminology student from Indiana, Pa., who usually spends his summers painting barns, repairing tractors and bailing hay at a farm near Pittsburgh.

A young-looking college senior, Mr. Nesbit said he feels confident he’ll be able to make quick decisions necessary on emergency calls. He performed well under trainers’ critical watch, he said.

Still, “when you’re outside, dealing with real people in real situations … the whole idea makes me a little nervous,” he said.

The stakes are high.

“I’m very nervous. It’s your life at stake,” said Jenifer Starr, 22, a criminal justice and sociology student at the University of Maryland at College Park.

“There’s no real time to mess up,” Mr. Nesbit said. “A mistake can have a lot of negative consequences.”

To get them ready for the sometimes wild, late nights of summertime Ocean City, full-time investigators and patrol officers play the role of troublemakers and serious criminals in training.

“My lawyer says that’s not an arrestable offense,” yelled Shawn Jones, a narcotics investigator, as a 21-year-old college student from Westchester, Pa., fished a pipe with marijuana residue out of Mr. Jones’ pocket.

The two played the roles of arrester and arrestee in a training exercise at Wor-Wic Community College in Salisbury on a recent hot June day.

“Get him on my cell phone. It’s in my other pocket,” Mr. Jones said, briefly distracting the student, who was dressed in full Ocean City police garb, before he continued the frisk.

The trainees get rapid-fire tips as the exercises end.

Don’t stare at your radio. Keep your eyes on the suspect. Don’t tell him 10 times to put his hands behind his back — cuff them. Make him sit on the ground and cross his feet, so he won’t take off. When his kicks off his flip-flops, he’s getting ready to run.

Keep them from running. Foot chases are not fun.

“At first, they’re pretty hesitant. But with repetition, they get more comfortable with what they’re doing,” Mr. Jones said.

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