OCEAN CITY – With the summer in full swing, the Ocean City Police Department recently conducted an undercover compliance check and reported only one business out of dozens sold to an underage cadet.
Barry Neeb, Ocean City Police spokesman, said he was pleased with the recent compliance check performed in the city.
The operation was conducted through the R.A.A.M. Program, which stands for Reducing the Availability of Alcohol to Minors, and works as a community policing initiative to control underage drinking in Ocean City.
One effort of the R.A.A.M. program is the compliance checks that occur throughout town at unspecified times. The compliance check system sends cadets under the age of 21 to local businesses. The undercover cadet attempts to purchase alcohol with an under-21 ID. If the business denies the cadet, then they have passed the compliance check.
On June 29, the cadets were sent to 35 alcohol distributors around town. Of the 35 establishments tested, 34 turned the undercover, underage, cadet away. The result is a remarkable 97 percent compliance rating.
According to Neeb, the average compliance rate in the State of Maryland is 60 percent. Since the creation of the R.A.A.M. program over 10 years ago, the Ocean City compliance rate has remained at an average of 91 percent.
The R.A.A.M. program began in the spring of 1996, after tragedies from the previous summer brought the severity of underage drinking to the town’s attention. In the summer of 1995, five people, all under the age of 21, died as a result of alcohol-related instances. The tragedies spurred the town to create a system that would help to control the pervasiveness of underage drinking.
“One of the things that we realized early on was that underage drinking was prevalent in Ocean City,” Neeb said.
The first step taken was enacting stricter enforcement through areas such as alcohol citations. Next, high school visitations were organized to educate teens on the underage drinking policy in Ocean City. High schools across Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia were visited in an effort to educate kids on how to stay out of trouble while vacationing in Ocean City.
The third step for police was to team up with retailers and form a partnership in the fight against underage drinking.
“Retailers are very aware of what a priority it is with us and it’s a priority with them as well,” Neeb said.
The 201 licensees in Ocean City host numerous employees who hold the responsibility of carding and checking the validity of ID’s. Neeb explained that many of those servers are young and inexperienced in identifying age and/or fake ID’s.
“It puts them in an awkward position, it’s a lot to expect of an 18-year-old,” he said.
The R.A.A.M. program works to train servers how to check ID’s and what to look for, according to Neeb. During the training, servers are also warned of the compliance checks that occur throughout the summer.
“We never tell them when or how often,” Neeb said. “We want them to be on their toes at all times.”
Neeb also added that the compliance checks are straightforward, explaining that when asked for ID, the cadet must provide their own underage ID and when asked their age, they must answer truthfully.
Neeb, who has been to more than 40 businesses so far this year and trained over 1,000 servers, feels that the program has been a success for the town. The recent success of the June compliance test is a reflection of that success.
“It goes to show that the work we do training these servers really pays off,” he said.
Buxy’s Salty Dog Saloon is one of the 34 establishments that passed the most recent compliance check. According to owner Doug Buxbaum, the key is educating both the employees and the patrons.
Buxbaum mentioned the importance of taking advantage of the ID training that the local police offer.
“They are out there to help,” said Buxbaum, who is also a ranking member of the Worcester County Licensed Beverage Association.
“Over the last 20 years, the police, bars, nightclubs, and restaurants have all come together,” said Buxbaum,
For Buxbaum and all of Ocean City, it gets harder to stay vigilant each year with increasing venues and ways to obtain fake ID cards. Although there are the inevitable underage culprits who will slip though the cracks, the hope is that education and checks and balances, such as the compliance tests, will help to control the problem.
“We have a lot to lose here with the tourist community,” Neeb said of the importance of creating a safe environment.
Since the tragedies of the summer of 1995, the town has seen a significant decrease in alcohol-related deaths among the under 21 crowd, according to Neeb.