To the Ocean City Police Department, the fun of Senior Week is serious business. In an effort to keep students safe and the town intact, the resort city's officials are reaching out to parents and teens about the benefits of good, clean fun and the consequences of getting caught with drugs or alcohol. Senior Week typically falls around the first week of June. "We do this to try to address problems before they happen," said Pfc. Howard Caplan. About 16 years ago, the "Play It Safe" program was created to provide alcohol- and drug-free activities, such as volleyball games and dances, for teens throughout June. The Ocean City Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Committee, the Worcester County Health Department and the town of Ocean City coordinate the project. As part of the program, graduating seniors receive a booklet that includes coupons and information about health hazards, local laws and where to find help in an emergency, as well as a wristband good for free bus transportation for Senior Week. The booklets should be distributed to high schools within the month, Caplan recently told parents and teenagers at Century High in Eldersburg. Copies are also available in Ocean City. The program was created in part to curb teen fatalities, Caplan said. Last year was the fourth consecutive June with no alcohol-related deaths or serious injuries among people 21 or younger, according to the program's Web site. As part of the campaign, Caplan hits the road about this time each year, when parents and students are making arrangements for the weeklong excursion to the beach. So far this year, he is scheduled to visit schools in Carroll, Frederick and Baltimore counties. Caplan joined the Ocean City police force in 1997 after more than 25 years with the Baltimore Police Department. Zero tolerance Since then, he has welcomed teenagers with the caveat that Ocean City is a zero-tolerance town that strictly enforces all the laws, especially those against underage drinking and drug use, as well as the town's noise ordinance. "We know they're good kids," he told parents. "We want to help them make good decisions." Robert Chmielewski of Woodbine and his daughter, Jess, a senior at South Carroll High in Sykesville, were among those who attended the session. Chmielewski wanted more information about how Ocean City prepares for the influx of teens, and his daughter was hoping something would be said to persuade her parents to let her go. Caplan told parents that the town, with about 8,000 full-time residents, swells to about 150,000 when the high school seniors come to celebrate their graduations. He pointed to a related Police Department effort, called Reducing the Availability of Alcohol to Minors, that coordinates with rental property owners and alcohol retailers to stem potential problems. The officer reminded the parents and teenagers that 21 is the legal drinking age and of the town's zero-tolerance policy. Caplan recounted that about four years ago he allowed his son, who was 20 at the time, to spend the night in jail after being arrested for having an open container of alcohol. To handle the summer throng, he said the Police Department adds about 130 seasonal officers to its full-time contingent of 97. At this time of year, the Ocean City Police Department fields about 20 calls for service and makes about 10 arrests a month, Caplan said. In contrast, last June alone, the department had 6,000 calls for service and about 600 arrests, most for disorderly conduct and alcohol violations, he said. To minimize the rowdiness, Caplan said, officers enforce "all of the state's laws," including jaywalking violations and the use of fake identification. He pointed out that as of Oct. 1, using a fake ID can land a violator in jail and result in a $500 fine. Police also conduct seatbelt checkpoints, he said. During a question-and-answer period, a mother asked how safe her daughter would be from sexual assault. Caplan acknowledged that the police do get calls regarding rapes and sexual assaults, but that in his experience those calls were largely associated with teens getting drunk and making bad choices about companions. Caplan gave his phone number and volunteered to check in on any teens for anxious parents. It's something he has done for years, he said. He said such visits also give him the chance to meet the teens and let them know he's there if they need him. Allaying fears At the end of the session at Century High, Robert Chmielewski said Caplan had allayed many of his fears about allowing his daughter to go to Ocean City with friends for Senior Week. "The fact that police are available makes me feel better," Chmielewski said. "I can understand it's a special occasion, but as a parent you still worry." But his mind isn't made up yet. He said he and his wife still have plenty of talking to do. Meanwhile, his daughter holds out hope that she'll be sunbathing down the ocean that first week of June. I'm 17, and I need to grow up sometime," she said. "And all my friends are going." Tips for staying safe Teens should avoid carrying lots of cash or wearing flashy jewelry. Parents should have teens call home each day at a designated time to check in. Always say no to alcohol. Remember that a blood-alcohol content of 0.02% can be reached after one beer. Refuse to ride in a car with a driver who has been drinking. Drive defensively - always be alert for those driving drunk. Sources: Pfc. Howard Caplan and Sample of Ocean City regulations Public alcohol consumption is prohibited, regardless of age. Carrying an open container of alcohol is a violation. Using a fake ID is against the law. Loud noise or music is a violation of the noise ordinance. Disorderly conduct, destruction of property and failure to obey a police officer are against the law. Sleeping on the beach, in city parks and on the streets is prohibited. Skateboarding is restricted to private property. Parking meters are enforced 24 hours a day in parking lots. Tobacco use is prohibited in the underage nightclubs. Source: March 20, 2005|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF