New crackdown urged on underage drinking

Baltimore County readies task force for problem

January 13, 1999|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

With Baltimore County officials poised to receive an $80,000 state grant to tackle underage drinking, a county councilman said yesterday that he plans to ask police and liquor board officials to crack down on such abuse in his Catonsville district.

Stephen G. Sam Moxley said most problems in the First District stem from teen-agers purchasing liquor at certain stores in the southwestern corridor and at small restaurants in Catonsville and Arbutus that often serve alcohol to customers younger than the legal drinking age of 21.

Moxley said he will push police to monitor the underage drinking through more surveillance at those establishments.

"I believe it is a problem that is countywide," said Moxley, a Democrat. "I've talked to teachers and administrators from private and public schools, and they all realize there's a problem. They say they try to do education in the schools, but it still exists. Why? I don't know."

The councilman's concerns come as the county's Bureau of Substance Abuse prepares to appoint a countywide task force on underage drinking to include representatives from the liquor board, county state's attorney's office, Students Against Drunk Driving and the school board. The task force will be funded by the grant from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

County police statistics show an increase in complaints about minors being served alcohol between 1995 and 1997 from 53 to 71. The liquor board heard 22 cases dealing with such complaints in 1997, nearly double the number two years earlier.

Complaints are heard by the county's liquor board, which can fine an establishment up to $2,000 for each incident, said Jerry Kilduff, the board's chief inspector.

"If these places are knowingly serving to underage kids 16 and 17 years old, I believe they should lose their license," Moxley said. "They are giving a bad name to the good liquor stores."

Officials created a program, Operation RAAM (Reducing Alcohol Availability to Minors), to combat the problem. Last spring, police working in the operation checked 45 bars and restaurants in the county and seized 13 false identification cards. Eight adults were charged with serving alcohol to minors, said Michael M. Gimbel, director of the county's bureau of substance abuse.

The operation is modeled after a similar program in Ocean City, which issued 3,100 citations last year for underage drinking.

"There's a very powerful relationship in Baltimore County now between the police, liquor board and the Licensed Beverage Association," Gimbel said. "Teen-age drinking is a constant problem. Drinking alcohol in the mind of kids is a rite of passage -- every year there is a new crop of teens who want to become adults and think the way to do it is to drink."

Pub Date: 1/13/99

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