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Rising concern turns to decrease in violations

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According to the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 25 percent of students ages 12 to 20 admit to drinking alcohol and 16 percent have reported they binge drink. Underage drinking has become a concern across the country. It has recently been named a major public health problem.

In the City of Springfield, the trend of drunk driving and underage drinking has raised concern among local officers. However, the number of youth being stopped for intoxication has decreased since last year, with 115 individuals fined for underage drinking compared to last year’s 145.

Sergeant Kean is the Traffic Services Supervisor for the Springfield Police Department. He said the Springfield Police Department typically get calls about noise and then check out a party, where they find underage drinking and alcohol supply.

Kean said there are two different ways to penalize underage drinking by the city police. One is an ordinance violation and the second is the state violation. Kean stated usually the city goes with the former.

“There is a consequence for the action, but it’s not a criminal consequence so you’re not harshly punished for an indiscretion,” he said. “People make mistakes and we understand that. Generally, as a city the last four or five years, we primarily take a view of seeing it as an ordinance violation rather than a criminal violation unless it’s the same person over and over.”  Kean added if a young offender continues to make the same mistake over and over, it is at the discretion of the officer to make it a criminal matter.

Suppose you go a party and there are underage people there. According to Kean, people that are under 21 consuming alcohol are cited. These individuals get an ordinance violation for illegal possession of alcohol by a minor.  The person who is hosting or providing the alcohol get a ticket for illegal gift of sale of alcohol by a minor and that’s what they would get charged with.

Both citations require attendance at a hearing in the City Council chambers in front of an administrative judge. Also, drinking citations are no laughing matter – they range anywhere from $500 to $1,000. It all depends on the administrative judge’s discretion, Kean said. Though, he stated, most people will opt for the hearing versus pursuing further contention.

“Once the fine is paid, it wouldn’t come up on a background check,” he said. “Especially for a college students – UIS, Benedictine, Robert Morris, Lincoln Land – a lot of kids are thinking past today, I don’t want to be jammed up for umpteen years on a job application, yeah I was arrested for X, Y and Z.” Kean says that’s why the city opts for the administrative hearing – the penalty is not as harsh.

Other very prevalent occurrences with alcohol are alcohol poisoning and drunk driving. Kean said the city police work hard to prevent fatalities, especially on high-risk drinking days like St. Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day. On St. Patrick’s Day, the city police use a voucher system for transportation to encourage safe rides home. Any cab rides from the bars downtown to home are free for those celebrating and the city picks up the tab.

“This year we picked up $2,600 in cab rides,” said Kean. “We see it as a very useful program so we have continued it.”

On campus, the problem of underage drinking is still existent, as it houses both upper and lowerclassmen. The highest numbers of incidences occur before the semester starts.

“At the beginning of the school year, we see students coming on to campus and drinking with their friends,” Sergeant Stuart said. “For many freshmen especially, it’s the first time they’re away from home so they are more likely to go out and get into trouble.”

Sergeant Strickler of the Campus Police said students who get citations from campus police for underage drinking must appear before an administrative judge at the Sangamon County Building for their fine. Similar to the city citation, fines depend on the discretion of the judge. Also, habitual offenders can face stiffer penalties.

“If they keep going back to the judge, there might be a fine increase,” he said. “They might also have to go through the student judicial process on campus.”

Stuart added, he thinks many times students who don’t want to get caught often try other ways to drink underage. “They think they are safer going to an upperclassmen’s apartment and drink there,” he said. “That’s not always the case because then they will be leaving campus later to return to their residence hall so the matter of safety is still a concern.”

Overall, though, campus police have seen promising signs of the majority of student body making good decisions. “We are seeing a decrease in the incidences of underage drinking compared to last year,” said Stuart. “Incidences of DUI have also decreased.”

According to data from Campus Police, there have been 16 citations issued for consumption or possession of alcohol by a minor, one citation issued for contributing to delinquency of a minor and one citation issued for violating the zero-tolerance policy for underage students.

Kean said the city police work with the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Traffic Safety Division to support advocacy efforts as well as coordinate checks. The city police also work with groups like Students Against Drunk Driving to promote smart decision making in the public and private schools in Springfield and surrounding areas. “It’s the kids themselves who are driving the effort to keep their peer group from going out and doing dumb things,” he said.

On the UIS side, every incoming freshmen class receives a presentation on underage drinking from the campus police during orientation. Stuart said he is hopeful students are receiving the most up-to-date information about the resources available on campus surrounding this important topic.

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