Students are warned about the consequences of being cited for underage drinking, yet many become a statistic of underage violators.Police would like people to understand their job of stopping minors from receiving and consuming alcoholic beverages. Students may not realize that while they are getting cited, that they are still alive. In rare, but certain situations involving alcohol, some people involved may lose their life that night for reasons of alcohol poisoning, drunk driving, etc.
At the beginning of each school year, Public Safety has fall presentations to warn students about the consequences of getting caught underage drinking. Numbers are read off about other students that have been charged with offense(s) year-to-date. It turns out that later in the school year, some of the students listening to Public Safety about underage will become another number that was caught.
Police have been working with SIPS for the past couple of years as the program is also concerned with the number of students consuming alcohol. Before the police joined in working with SIPS, there were two arrests for providing alcohol to minors. After the two forces joined together, they arrested 28 providers, according to Sergeant John O’Donnell of the West Chester Borough Police Department. The point of the program and one initiative of the police are to find the providers to cut down the number of consumers.
The West Chester Police are using different techniques to find who is furnishing alcohol to others. They were not able to comment on any techniques they used or plan on using. Since it is believed that the number of people consuming alcohol is higher than the number of people buying, the police are attempting to “cut out the middle man” known as the supplier.
“Think of it as a two-way street,” O’Donnell said, “You ask someone to buy (alcohol) for you and then someone asks you to buy (for them).”
Before people are legally old enough to purchase alcohol, they might ask someone who is legal. O’Donnell asks that people think of what they are asking someone to do for them and then determine if they would do the same for any of their own friends. He said that it is a matter of respecting someone by not asking them to buy, when they would be the one to be in more legal trouble than the minor.
Suppliers of alcohol could be of all ages. If someone who is legal provides to a minor, that minor, regardless of age, is now the supplier when they share or give the alcohol to others. Police realize that they can not stop underage people from drinking; they are trying to make it harder for people to do. One way to do this is to find and punish the violators with legal consequences.
The legal aspect of an underage consists of loss of drivers license for 90 days, fines are up to $300, and some car insurance agencies may increase cost. In the second offense, licenses may have to be surrendered for a year and the consequences increase by the number of offenses.
By pleading guilty, the person would have to pay the full amount due and turn in their driver’s license. By pleading not guilty, the person will go to court to settle the matter. If there is only one occurrence, the person may apply to have the underage expunged from their record when they are 21 years old.
Some students may want to plead to a lesser charge, such as disorderly conduct. However, this can not be removed from a person’s record. Underage citations can be found in a person’s record, but not on their criminal record O’Donnell described underage as a “summary offense.” This means that underages are like tickets, that there is no criminal record. A criminal charge would appear, for example if someone was arrested for providing alcohol to minors.
“I tell kids. . . [underage citations are] consequences for their behavior, but if your behavior changes, it was just a bump in the road,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said that if students do not get cited again, they can change their behaviors. They might think twice before going out to a particular place. While some students try to change their behavior, other students have been cited at least two times for underage.
The police want to intervene teenagers from drinking, to prevent tragic outcomes. This can include stopping alcoholism to stopping alcohol related deaths. O’Donnell said that it is “the worst feeling in the world to have to tell parents that their kid is dead.” He said that one reason he believes to be the problem is that kids do not think about the end of the night.
West Chester Borough Police search for large parties in town and anything that seems to be out of the ordinary that would catch an officer’s attention towards illegal acts. It was said that the Police would only stop people that appeared to obliviously have been drinking that night. O’Donnell said that “kids that stick out get caught” as he explained how some people can act like “professionals or amatuers” when consuming alcohol.
O’Donnell described the “trained eye” that police officers have when they watch people. By watching people, the police can see who is handling themselves and getting to their destinations. While watching, some other people who can not walk straight, or are getting help walking, it is mostly likely due to their intoxication.
“We don’t get enjoyment out of arresting them; it has to be done,” O’Donnell said, “. it jeopardizes them . . . everything that they worked for.”
O’Donnell explained that some students are going through a change when they start college, that most of them are experiencing independence. The police do not look forward to citing or arresting students for an underage. Students put in hard work to earn their degree, and nobody wants underage or other crimes on their record.
People that do get stopped for alcohol related crimes or offenses may have to spend part of the night in the “drunk tank” to sober up. People who are placed in the “drunk tank” are those that are harm to themselves or others, if their transportation is driving, if they can not walk or make it home on their own, etc. There is no rule to when a person can be released from the drunk tank, O’Donnell said, that it depends on when they are okay to go. Police need to make a good decision about letting a person go from their custody.
If a person shows signs of alcohol poisoning, the people that they are with should seek medical help for them. Authorities want to make sure that the person survives and recovers. In most cases, the person with alcohol poisoning is of age. It is possible that persons involved could be cited for underage, but that is not always the case. If the persons involved are minors, O’Donnell pleaded that they should be selfless, not worrying about if they could get in trouble and get their friend help. Police would be more interested in who provided the alcohol if it were a minor that had alcohol poisoning than the group who was consuming.
Police are doing their jobs and one can only hope that students that choose to drink are doing so responsibly. They could find themselves in the “drunk tank” or worse off.
Ginger Rae Dunbar is a second-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at RD655287@wcupa.edu.