FEATURE: STATE COLLEGE TACKLES UNDERAGE DRINKING BY PARTICIPATING IN PLCB PILOT PROGRAM
Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts
In a college community where 65% of all crimes after 8:00 p.m. are known to be alcohol fueled, identifying the supplier of alcohol becomes a critical component to effective enforcement. In State College Borough, home to 40,000 Penn State University students, fighting underage drinking is a constant battle. A little over a year ago, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board provided the borough with the financial resources — $80,000 — to focus on identifying those persons illegally supplying alcohol to people underage.
The program, coined SIP (Source Investigation Project), is nearing the end of its 18-month pilot run. Chief Tom King and Program Director Lt. Dana Leonard recently evaluated the program at a jointly-sponsored PLCB- PLCM conference for college and community officials.
State College Police decided to focus on two strategies — education/awareness and enforcement. Initially, officers reached out to community groups, student groups, alcohol licensees, district judges, and the news media to spread the word about exactly how SIP would be implemented. The project got a fair amount of positive media attention and generated much attention in the campus paper. The police have been completely forthcoming about their plans and expectations so as to give every opportunity for compliance.
The second arm of the project — enforcement — involved a concentrated effort on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Generally on overtime, teams of two to eight officers would concentrate on source investigation by identifying, citing, and questioning underage drinkers. If the drunk individual was underage, charges for furnishing alcohol to minors would be pursued. If the individual was over 21 and over-served in a licensed establishment, Pennsylvania Liquor Control Enforcement would be notified. An Assistant District Attorney was assigned to respond to SIP legal matters so that there
would be continuity in enforcement. The courts saw 20-25 alcohol hearings per month. In order to best gauge the consistency and effectiveness of underage penalties, a Court Watch Program, comprised of student interns, attended more than 50% of all summary hearings for alcohol fueled cases at two district judge courtrooms. The in terns recorded the judge’s comments and concerns as well as the verdicts so as to assist police in fine-tuning their enforcement efforts.
Another ally the State College Police Department enlisted are the town’s licen-
sees. Beer distributors began voluntarily requiring anyone purchasing more than three cases of beer to both provide proper identification and register.
Another important aspect of the enforcement piece is tracking “last drink” data, or those sites underage drinkers identify as the last place they consumed alcohol. Those sites are added to a police department database and mapped on their Geo graphic Information System. By overlaying all last drink data and alcohol-fueled crimes on a map, police are able to track trends and patterns and, therefore, better anticipate problem areas. The mapping is a critical component of providing the most effective enforcement.
In the final days of the SIP, State College is compiling a manual with advice and strategies for effectively enforcing underage drinking laws for other police departments. The department intends to continue the project and will be available to offer training and technical assistance to other communities.