OCEAN CITY, MD. -- Since mid-May, nearly 400 people have been arrested in Ocean City for making too much noise.

City officials say the crackdown is needed to lower the resort town's rising decibel level.

"It's crazy," said Jim Conforti, 21, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh who was arrested in mid-May for violating the noise ordinance and who agreed to pay a $25 fine and perform community service.

Kevin Brady, 21, a junior at Salisbury State University, had just returned home from work with his roommate and turned on the radio about 10 p.m. Friday night, when two police officers banged on the door and told them they were under arrest for violating the noise ordinance.

"We weren't giving them a hard time or anything," said a surprised Brady, who was arrested for the first time.

"They said there was a law about playing a radio that could be heard within 50 feet of the street and we were under arrest."

The policy was instituted by newly appointed Police Chief David C. Massey, partly at the suggestion of Mayor Roland E. "Fish" Powell, who said vacationers and permanent residents are complaining each year about rising noise levels.

"We are not going to condone it," Powell said Saturday.

"They seem to forget the rights of others."

In previous years, police in most instances issued warnings and citations to noise violators but found many snubbed the tickets. Police often had to return to the same locations for identical complaints.

"You have to do something to handle the problem. It's an alternative to charging them with a more serious crime" such as disorderly conduct, said Officer Mark L. Brannock, whose primary assignment is to patrol the city for noise violators.

In the six weeks that ended July 1, nearly 400 people were handcuffed and jailed on charges of violating the noise ordinance, a misdemeanor that can result in a fine of $100 to $500 and up to 15 days in jail, said Capt. Victor M. Bunting.

After 10 p.m., noise readings within 50 feet of a building must not exceed 55 decibels, a level registered in a room under normal talking conditions.

Also enforced is a city ordinance prohibiting the carrying of alcoholic beverages in public.

Violators face fines of $50 to $200 and a jail term of up to 20 days.

Sgt. Jay Hancock, a police spokesman, said that because of the special enforcement, the number of adult arrests for all crimes rose from 550 in June 1989 to 868 last month.

Police, however, are ill-equipped to handle mass numbers of misdemeanor arrests. In June, particularly during Junebug Week, when high school graduates swamp the resort area, more than 100 arrests were sometimes made in a single night.

Some of those arrested spent an entire day awaiting processing before they could be released.

"We do see a lot of people spending an inordinate amount of time in jail when they shouldn't," said B. Randall Coates, the Worcester County state's attorney.

Because of the arrests, some more serious cases are being delayed, Coates said.

To help remove some of the cases from the dockets, most of those arrested are being offered an opportunity to have the arrest wiped off their records by agreeing to pay a $25 fine and perform eight hours of community service, officials said.