- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

OCEAN CITY The city is being overrun by "Junebugs," the thousands upon thousands of recent high school graduates itching to celebrate with reckless, unsupervised abandon.

While the massive influx of young people produces a large percentage of the city's revenue, it also presents serious public-safety and law-enforcement problems.

The roughly 200 officers on Ocean City's summer police force could not possibly handle every drunken teen-ager, every young man looking for a brawl even with the help of the state police reinforcements, who will work 100 hours in four-hour shifts here during the summer.

So Ocean City police operate a type of catch-and-release program. Watching the endless stream of revelers driving, walking, running and cycling through their town, police randomly pluck teen-agers out of this river of euphoria. They stop individual offenders for underage alcohol possession, issue them citations, and then let them go.

At 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, a group of about twelve teen-agers sat in a hotel room at the Oceanic Motel and watched as a police officer summoned one of their group a brunette out onto the patio.

"How old are you?" the officer asked.

"Seventeen," came the timid reply.

The officer issued a citation to the minor for illegal possession of alcohol and informed the girl that her parents would be notified.

She began to cry, stung by the humiliation and injustice of being singled out.

Ocean City police have little choice but to selectively cite or arrest offenders, with the number of people in the city swelling from 7,500 in the winter to more than 200,000 in June.

The police make arrests in the numerous fights that break out there were 341 arrests between June 3 and June 9 and issue citations to minors for alcohol possession, but not for public drunkenness.

And the citations are clearly issued to maintain control, rather than prevent underage drinking: During that same week, police issued just 351 citations to minors for possession of alcohol.

"I can't believe how much stuff is going on and how few people are getting busted," said Eric Hill, 18, who graduated June 7 from Cedar Crest High School in Lebanon, Pa.

Many students say Senior Week is innocent enough, just a good time for newly minted graduates.

"Older people think this is really bad, but the kids are just down here chillin,'" said Greg, a Cedar Crest graduate who did not give his last name. "They just want to be unsupervised and have fun."

Still, it's not uncommon to see large groups of roving males cursing at one another and sometimes brawling on the sidewalks.

Property destruction in hotels and motels has been a serious problem for many owners.

Sal Mannino, a Cedar Crest graduate staying at the Oceanic Motel, paid a $400 security deposit $50 for each of the eight young men staying in the double-occupancy, twin-bed room.

They were not going to be getting all that money back. Mr. Mannino had cracked the wood of the door Tuesday night.

And down the hall, a window was smashed the same night.

An employee at the Oceanic said the motel charges a $50 security deposit to every single customer, regardless of age.

For some teen-agers, Senior Week is less about getting drunk and more about spending time with close friends before going off to different colleges. Brian Weaver, an 18-year-old Cedar Crest graduate, is among the many who choose not to drink alcohol at all.

But the abstainers are clearly in the minority.

Mr. Mannino, 18, and friend Jared Werth, 18, started Wednesday evening off by drinking a 750-milliliter bottle of tequila in about an hour.

Mr. Werth, who said he had been drunk for three days straight, exposed himself six times to people around the motel in the space of an hour.

One might expect city leaders to liken the hordes of young adults to a plague of locusts, but Ocean City Mayor Jim Mathias wants them to keep coming back.

"We welcome them here," said Mr. Mathias, 50. "We are trying to give them a safe environment to enjoy."

There have been no alcohol-related deaths in Ocean City since June of 1995, when there were five in 10 days. Mr. Mathias credits the Reducing Alcohol Availability to Minors and the Play It Safe programs.

And he said Senior Week was as much for the youngsters as it was for the Ocean City hoteliers and merchants.

"It's not about the money," Mr. Mathias said. "It's bigger than the money. It's about the American experience these young adults are going to have. It's about introducing these young people responsibly to the adult experience."

Jeff Barnes contributed to this report.

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