In the eight years that he’s patrolled the Town of Dewey Beach, Officer Cliff Dempsey has seen it all—during Beach Week.
Beach Week is an unofficial rite-of-passage for many high school seniors. It’s not sanctioned by schools or PTA groups, but hundreds of students participate anyway, descending in droves upon beach towns like Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach, Rehoboth Beach and Ocean City when high school is over.
Unfortunately, concentrating hundreds of 17- and 18-year-old kids—many of whom are on their own and without supervision for the first time—in a sleepy beach town with noise ordinances and curfews can be disastrous.
So much so that Officer Dempsey wouldn’t let his children participate in Beach Week.
“My parents wouldn’t let me go,” he told a large gathering of senior students from area high schools and the students' parents at a parent-organized meeting on Monday night at .
“I can’t tell you not to let your kids go. But I know what I see, and I wouldn’t want my daughter anywhere near that place.”
“I don’t think it’s worth it … that’s my personal opinion,” he added.
One of the problems with Beach Week, Dempsey explained, is that there’s not a lot to do at night. And, kids under 18 have a curfew—they must be in by 11 p.m. on weeknights, unless they’re walking “from point A to point B,” but no loitering is allowed.
Police officers can, at their discretion, ask for identification from anyone who looks like he or she might be under 18 and is out past the curfew. Failure to show a form of identification results in a fine, as does violating the town’s curfew.
Using a fake identification is also illegal, and Dewey Beach police officers are well-trained in spotting fake identifications.
Another problem, of course, is alcohol. Underage drinking is not tolerated, but most students will have at least a sip of alcohol during Beach Week, Dempsey said.
All it takes is for a house party to violate the noise ordinance, and the police are in the house, breaking up the party. Anyone in the house can potentially be charged with possession of alcohol—or drugs, or marijuana, or whatever else is found in the house. Possession is the same as consumption in Dewey Beach.
Sometimes, there are so many kids hauled down to the police station that the overflow must be kept in vans while they await processing, Dempsey said.
Processing the kids can take time—in large part because the parents of the 17-year-olds have to be called. Then, those parents must drive out to Dewey Beach—often in the middle of the night—to pick up their kids and take them home.
They might be required to make the trek out to Delaware again in a few months, if their 17-year-old has been summoned to the Dewey family court as part of his or her penalty for underage possession of alcohol. Fines are also levied.
A person under the age of 21 but over the age of 18 faces a different scenario for possession or consumption of alcohol—he or she can be arrested on state charges, and that arrest goes on his or her permanent record. Fines and driver's license suspension are also possible.
But it’s not just the alcohol that gets the kids in trouble. Jaywalking and littering incur fines, as does parking without a permit. Some kids leave Beach Week with $400 in parking fines, Dempsey said. Some cars get towed multiple times during the week.
Sexual assaults also occur. “Make sure you have a buddy system,” Dempsey advised.
And, the “weekend warriors”—the adults who like to party in the beach towns during the weekends—can get aggressive with the kids, Dempsey added.
What do you think? Is Beach Week worth it? Weigh in on our poll and tell us why you voted a certain way in the comments.