South Bethany officials draw a line in the sand

Of the 122 calls received by South Bethany police in June, 35 calls were traced directly to activity from the traditional post-graduation visits by high school seniors, who often flock to the area’s beaches from the Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia areas for a week of celebration after their scholastic triumph.

In reporting on police activity in June, SBPD Lt. Linda O’Malley said many of the police calls had been related to under-age consumption of alcohol and cases of people driving while intoxicated.

“We had a busy month,” O’Malley said, adding that the major strain on the town’s police force from the annual “June bug week” is that the police never know exactly when the rush of teenagers will hit and can’t easily plan for additional officers to be available to monitor the situation.

Since the population that visits the area after graduation varies each year, the number of graduates and the timing of their visits can’t really be predicted by the graduation schedules of particular schools or school districts.

This summer was noted by town officials as a particularly difficult year for policing the so-called “June bugs.” It has already sparked a conversation between Mayor Gary Jayne, Town Manager Melvin Cusick and Police Chief Joe Deloach.

“The chief said it was the worst they’ve had in a long time,” Jayne reported, with a nod to Deloach’s 27 years of service and counting with the SBPD.

Jayne said another veteran officer had commented that the June of 2007 was the worst time with “June bugs” that he’d seen in his 17 years with the department.

“We’re going to do something different next year,” Jayne promised, saying that the process of creating a plan to combat the problem was already under way.

One of the major issues for the town is police officer overtime related to the policing of the teenage visitors. If the trouble period can be predicted, Jayne said the town would be looking into overtime pay for its current officers, as well as hiring off-duty officers from other jurisdictions to help out during the rough periods.

That’s just one part of the plan so far, Jayne said.

“Our philosophy will be one of zero-tolerance,” Jayne warned. “There will be no warnings, no calling their parents,” he added, suggesting the issuing of tickets would become the rule for offenses that merited lighter treatment in the past.

“What we saw in the last two weeks is not South Bethany,” Jayne said sternly, “and it won’t be tolerated.”

O’Malley said the problem this summer was different from that in past years.

“Generally, it’s been in the houses in the past,” she said, noting that citations have been made for “disorderly dwellings” in some cases. “This year, the parents were chaperoning the houses, so the problem moved out into the streets. They were all up and down the streets.”

Councilwoman Bonnie Lambertson said most of the problems in the past had been traced to rentals from one particular real estate company. Jayne said addressing the rental business was one area of the new plan to tackle the problem.

“Next year, we’ll send a letter to the real estate companies and tell them about the zero-tolerance policy,” he said, noting that a problem persists with some Realtors making leases with parents, thinking the parents would be using the rented home, but then the parents never show up to supervise the graduate group.

O’Malley said she’d found in the past that real estate offices were willing to evict problem renters when the police contacted them about such issues but that they did not try to head off the problem by avoiding renting to particular groups.

“It’s the same houses every year,” Councilman Jay Headman noted, commenting that even when he was a teenager certain homes were known to be available for rent to large groups of teenagers who might not necessarily be quiet, law-abiding citizens during their visits.

“We need to work with the owners of these homes,” he said. “We need to let them know what we’re not going to allow this to continue.”
June a busy month for SBPD

O’Malley’s report on June police action also noted arson incidents that took place near York Road last month. She said several trash cans had been set on fire, along with an unsuccessful attempt to set on fire a deck and the siding on a house. She said the incidents were thought to be related but did not connect them to the “June bug” problem. The arsons remain under investigation.

Also still under investigation is the theft of a personal watercraft from a residence in the town. It was the third such craft stolen in South Bethany in July, but O’Malley said that particular theft, of the craft and its trailer, was believed to be unrelated to the previous incident.

O’Malley said two men had been arrested in that case after police stopped them with a pair of personal watercraft in their possession that had already been reported as stolen.

The two watercraft, valued around $20,000, were stolen from a bayside residence in South Bethany, in what she described as a rash of thefts totaling nearly $100,000 of property stolen over the course of three days.

O’Malley said one of the two suspects had been acquainted with the owner of the property from which the watercraft were stolen.

Also reported to South Bethany police in June was a case of home improvement fraud, in which O’Malley said a homeowner had paid a contractor for work to be done. She said the contractor had never returned to perform the work.