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Social media pseudo-event warrants increased security

(June 12, 2015) Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice … well, better safe than sorry.

For the second year in a row, Ocean City police and allied agencies organized a significant increase in patrols this past weekend in anticipation of a possible “College Beach Week” event, a rather amorphous happening believed to be driven mostly by social media.

And, for the second year in a row, that event seems not to have happened, at least on any appreciable scale.

“I’m not sure if anything came to fruition, but that’s why we had an increased presence, in case it did,” said Ocean City Police Department Public Information Officer Lindsay Richard.

Which isn’t to say the heightened presence – unmistakable on the Boardwalk, with officers nearly every block – wasn’t needed.

As many local businesses observed, this past weekend, and likely the next two, are the peak season of “senior week,” when high school graduates flood the resort. This year’s crowd has been, by all accounts, particularly large and boisterous, but most doubted that this had anything to do with any kind of organized outing.

“There was certainly a big presence,” said Greg Shockley owner of Shenanigan’s Pub and the Shoreham Hotel. “Whether the police deterred any kind of event, or if it just didn’t happen, I don’t know.”

“You never know if the police presence is overkill, or if that’s the reason that nothing got out of hand,” agreed Lee Gerachis, owner of Malibu’s Surf Shop. “The whole thing looks like a can of gas next to a fire, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t blow up. I saw a lot of teenagers being rowdy, but not necessarily doing anything illegal.”

The quasi-event, spread on social media via the Twitter hashtags #CollegeBeachWeek or #CollegeBeachTakeover, appears to be backed by hip-hop promoter Party Headz DC.

Despite reports elsewhere that the event has “a troubled past,” the reality appears to be that the event has no past. Other promoters have organized similar events in other resorts, and some of those – such as one in Virginia Beach – have turned into public safety nightmares. But the only concrete link between those events and the potential Party Headz DC Ocean City event is the use of the same Twitter hashtag.

The other connection is that all the events, regardless of the location or promoter, are clearly intended to attract college-age African-Americans from urban areas. But racial makeup and Twitter use do not necessarily guarantee the same outcomes.

Nonetheless, police have actively followed up with Party Headz DC, and monitored social media channels to see if anything was actually brewing.

“Town officials have been in contact with the same people who attempted to do the event last year,” Richard said. “Our intelligence unit monitored social media throughout the weekend, but there was really nothing of value that came across.”

Rather, nothing more is needed to make mid-June a rowdy time, other than the usual crop of high school graduates.

“For the past 30 years, this past weekend and the next have been our busiest for the entire year,” Richard said. “Anyone who’s out on the Boardwalk can see that. It is an incredibly young crowd.”

Statistical data from the department would suggest that crime over this past weekend was actually down as compared to the same weekend in 2014. Total service calls over June 4-7 came to 1,740 officer-initiated actions and 521 citizen calls.

For the same Thursday-Sunday span last year – June 5-8, 2014 – in which “College Beach Week” was suspected to occur, the OCPD counted 1,816 and 688 officer and citizen calls, respectively.

More drastic was a decrease in arrests, from 184 last year to only 90 this year. Out of these, drug arrests also dropped, from 66 over four days last year to 17 this year.

The only high-profile incident appears to have been a stabbing on 12th Street and the Boardwalk on the evening of Sunday, June 12 but this did not result in the victim going to the hospital, and charges have yet to be filed after speaking to both the victim and suspect, according to police.

For most businesses, the story is the same: June’s performance is typically mediocre, especially through the week. With most families avoiding the month, and pre-booking for July and August, people in town over the age of 18 are typically spontaneous trip-takers whose visits are weather-dependent.

“I think a lot of it depends on people looking at the forecast and deciding if they’re going to come,” Shockley said. “Mid-week, last week, we were running about 30 percent at the hotel, probably about the same at the restaurant.

“This week, we’re looking at 70 percent, and I’d attribute that to the forecast for this weekend being good, where last week everyone knew it was going to rain.”

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