Fun in the sun it isn't, but for 102 summer cops, O.C. is tough to beat HEAT WAVE

June 24, 1994|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,Ocean City Bureau of The Sun

Ocean City -- They stand side by side in front of the paper targets, and the noise is deafening as 18 police-issue pistols fire at once. They fire repeatedly on command, then cluster around the gun table to clean their Smith and Wesson .38s.

Class is over for the day at the police gun range.

Ocean City's newest group of seasonal officers, most of them college students, has just completed four of the 40 hours of weapons training they will receive before they are sworn in.

Summer cop is not your average summer job at the beach. They make about $8 an hour to start -- better than McDonald's, a little more than the Beach Patrol, but not a lot when your life can go on the line.

"It's kind of scary to send them out there with a firearm, but it's scarier to send them out there without the means to protect themselves," says Officer Hugh Bean, who's in charge of training the seasonal hires. "They'll encounter anything and everything during their summer here. . . . I think we instill in them a respect for what they have to do."

What they have to do is keep order in a town that explodes every June, as 300,000 visitors arrive in a municipality that lists only 4,661 registered voters. Most of the seasonal officers will end up on the Boardwalk, walking a beat on the boards.

Ocean City is the only town in Maryland permitted to hire seasonal police officers on an annual basis. The town went to the Legislature in 1989, seeking special exemption from a law restricting seasonal officers. The Legislature complied, writing an exemption that does not name Ocean City but is written in such a way that only Maryland's resort meets the requirements for annual use of seasonal hires.

Ocean City Police Chief David C. Massey was part of the Ocean City delegation that approached the Legislature. Chief Massey has more reason than most to appreciate what the seasonal officers provide the town: He was one before coming a full-time officer in 1974.

"It's necessary for us to supplement our year-round officers with 100 seasonal officers," says the chief, who leads 89 full-time officers and this year's 102 seasonal hires. "We have a unique problem in Ocean City: The population increases 30 times over, winter to summer. . . . We didn't find any other place in the nation like that."

Other states' beach towns hire some seasonal officers but don't have to rely on them the way Ocean City does because their year-round population is larger, allowing more permanent police officers, concurs City Manager Dennis Dare.

"I've made it a point to look at other beach communities," Mr. Dare says. "We're unique."

Seasonal hiring has done more than solve Ocean City's particular problem, however. It's become a seed program for law enforcement all over the country, as former Ocean City seasonals move into local, state and federal law enforcement jobs.

Officer Bean, who has been training officers for 15 years, reels off the agencies with former seasonals on their payrolls: Ten in the DEA. Fifteen to 20 in the Maryland State Police. Ten to 15 in Baltimore, city and county. Five in the Department of Natural Resources Police. Among former seasonals is the Baltimore County K-9 unit's commander, Michael Howe. "I loved Ocean City -- that is a tremendous law enforcement experience," says Lieutenant Howe, who spent five summers in the 1970s as a seasonal officer. "I handled just about everything you can think of . . . you learn a lot about yourself, and how you're going to react."

"I think the reason many of us are down here is to get the experience of law enforcement," says Scott Messick, 23, a first-year seasonal from Annapolis. "Many places do require experience as well as a four-year degree. You are a sworn police officer, albeit only for the summer."

Many of the seasonal officers come back for a second or third summer -- this year, about a third of the summer hires were returning seasonals, according to Officer Bean.

"I think it's really great. Last year, I was a booking officer. This year, I'll be able to go out on patrol," says Krista Selph, a 21-year-old from Snow Hill who was a group leader in her class.

Continuing education

The seasonal officers get the same weapons training as any officer and an abbreviated version of just about everything else: traffic tickets, accident scenes, rudimentary first aid, use of handcuffs, pepper spray and nightsticks, report writing.

They spend three weeks in a classroom -- "We give them what we can," says Officer Bean -- and two weeks in the field.

Theirs is an education that continues all summer long.

"I've been on patrol a little over a month," says Mike Willever, as signed to a day shift on the Boardwalk. "It's not at all what I expected. It's about 90 percent community relations and about 10 percent actual police work as I would think of it: investigating crimes, stopping traffic, having people pour out their beer."

What happens on Boardwalk patrol?

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