Ocean City Police Department


Ocean City Police History

Law and order arrived in Ocean City just before the 1898 summer season. Recognizing problems inherent with the growth of the popular beach resort, the Town’s second Mayor, George M. Upshur, hired Ocean City’s first Police Officer, Cyrus W. Purnell. His job was to keep peace and good order among residents and visitors.

In June 1900, the Police Department was expanded by Mayor Clayton Purnell with the appointment of Cyrus Purnell as Police Chief and the hiring of two additional officers, William Scott and Hurley J. Esham. The City also purchased an old Methodist tabernacle on Dorchester Street to house municipal offices, including the Police Department and Jail. Though the wooden tabernacle burned to the ground around 1908, a series of buildings at the same location became Headquarters to the OCPD for ninety-four years.

City financial records show the Department in 1910 was headed by Chief Samuel Johnson at an annual salary of approximately $300. He was assisted by one year-round Officer, Jackson Hall. Additionally, Sidney Jones, William Powell, S. R. Cropper, Thomas Moore, and C.A. Parker, were paid for “police service” during the summer with an average seasonal salary of $7.00.

The expanding population increased the crime rate as more people crowded into the limited confines of the resort. The visitors’ desires for a “good time” were often fueled by alcohol. With the national movement toward temperance in full swing, “bootlegging” and other alcohol-related incidents became some of the leading crimes.

An increase in serious crimes marked the 1950’s. Ricks Raft, a restaurant and bar on 17th Street and well-known for raids by police, was not the target of law enforcement when it was “raided” on January 4, 1950 by two armed gunman, who made off with $2,500. There was also a shooting in the Pier Ballroom that year, and a juvenile crime wave erupted involving burglaries and thefts, prompting discussion of the reinstatement of a 1923 juvenile curfew law which had been enacted to curtail earlier juvenile mischief.

1960 began an era of domestic turbulence and change in the United States. The civil rights movement was commanding attention and civil unrest was erupting on campuses and in urban areas. On the night of September 4, 1960, Ocean City had its first “riot.” Two thousand youths gathered outside the Ocean Casino on the Boardwalk at 9th Street to protest the arrest of a young Marine on a drunk and disorderly charge. They intended to march on the jail and release the prisoner. The OCPD requested additional manpower from the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department and the Maryland State Police. Using K-9 dogs and backed-up by the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Department and fire hoses, Police eventually dispersed the crowd. There was some property damage, and thirty-four of the protesters joined the Marine in jail. A crowd of about 250 people gathered the next day, but were quickly dispersed by Police and a group of townspeople acting as a reserve.

In its 1963 annual report to the Mayor and Council, OCPD’s statistics reflected an “impressively efficient department under Chief Phillips.” The police desk in City Hall received 6,800 calls, and Officers made 717 arrests, losing only seventy cases in court. The Department investigated 342 criminal cases, took 125 missing person reports, and handled 149 traffic accidents in which seventy-one people were injured, but only one was killed.

A “Basic Police Training School” for the Ocean City Police Department started in 1965. For the first time, year-round Officers were attending a “police academy.” The entire Department, along with Officers from Berlin and Pocomoke, met two nights a week for three weeks – a total of 18 hours of instruction. Entry-level Police Officer Trainees today receive over 800 hours of classes during 24 weeks at the Eastern Shore Criminal Justice Academy.

While the mission of the Ocean City Police Department remains the same - keeping the peace, brining criminals to justice and providing service and assistance to the community - the officer hired for the OCPD's first summer more than 100 years ago would not recognize the OCPD of 2003. He patrolled only during daytime hours, but whatever occurred was his responsibility. There were no Detectives, Accident Investigators, K-9 Units, Communications Operators or Records Clerks. There weren't any Sergeants, Lieutenants or captains - just one Police Officer to maintain law and order in a growing community.

His approach to serving the community then was much the same as the OCPD today, although in 1898 it didn't have a fancy title. Community Policing is "back-to-the-basics" police work getting Officers out of their patrol cars and in touch with the members of the communities they protect. Begun in the early 1990's as a separate unit, the Community policing philosophy has been adopted as the Department's strategy to give Ocean City's residents and visitor's the quality police protection they have come to expect.