Police target alcohol buyers

Citations issued to youths caught trying to use fake ID

January 07, 2000|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

State police have quietly begun a crackdown on underage drinking that has troopers across Maryland targeting young violators who try to buy alcohol with fake identification.

Until now, state police enforcement of underage drinking has focused on those who sell, buy or give alcohol to anyone under 21, said Sgt. Tom Woodward, who helped develop the program at the direction of Lt. Col. Jesse Graybill, supervisor of field operations for the Maryland State Police.

Troopers -- sometimes working undercover in stores -- will now issue civil citations to the buyers themselves.

The citations would require offenders 17 and younger -- and their parents -- to meet with juvenile justice counselors to determine whether circumstances warrant forwarding the case to juvenile court. Underage drinkers who are 18, 19 or 20 would have to appear before a judge in District Court, where they could be fined up to $500 for a first offense and up to $1,000 for a second offense.

The crackdown is being phased in barracks by barracks because it calls for developing partnerships within the community, education, and training and enforcement, said Woodward.

"So far, we've trained some troopers in Harford, Kent, Queen Anne's, St. Mary's and Washington counties," he said. "We hope to have [most of the training] completed by the prom and graduation seasons in May," he said.

Areas where state police have primary criminal enforcement responsibilities, such as in Carroll, Kent and Queen Anne's counties, are the earliest to get training, Woodward said.

In other areas, such as Ocean City and Howard County, local police agencies are operating strong underage drinking initiatives, so troopers will serve more of an assisting role, he said.

Statistics on the success of the fledgling program are not available, Woodward said.

A sampling of barracks already involved in the crackdown showed the number of citations issued for underage drinking has risen.

Sgt. Bonnie Stewart of the Leonardtown barracks said three citations were issued in 1998, and about 25 have been issued in the last four months in St. Mary's County.

In Washington County, troopers wrote 47 citations for underage drinking in 1998 and 65 in 1999, said 1st Sgt. Greg Johnson.

Lt. Terry L. Katz, commander in Westminster at the state's largest barracks, said he likes the concept of the new program for several reasons.

The crackdown's ultimate goal is to get kids not to drink, Katz said this week.

"It's not designed to be punitive, but we know that young drivers have the highest accident rates," he said. "When they drive and also drink, we know we're going to have tragedies."

The program involves business owners who have a "vested interest in preventing underage drinking," those who own and operate the establishments selling and serving alcohol, he said.

It also enlists the support and cooperation of local police, county liquor boards and community organizations such as Junction Inc., a substance abuse prevention and treatment facility based in Westminster, he said.

"We all have to work together, to interrupt the pattern at the beginning, before these kids become habitual drinkers and develop an addiction, before they begin doing other crimes to support their drinking habits, and before they drink and drive," Katz said. "Kids learn where they can get alcohol and the word spreads quickly.

"What has been done [to combat underage drinking] is clearly not working," he said.

The enforcement phase can be enhanced in various ways, Woodward said.

Troopers on routine traffic patrol can still be on the lookout for teen-agers loitering outside liquor stores, and with the addition of federal and state grants to pay overtime, extra troopers can be assigned to surveillance details or other programs such as "Shops In Cops," he said.

"Shops In Cops" uses undercover troopers posing as clerks in stores to recognize false or fake identification cards that young customers offer as proof of age.

In Maryland, it's easy to spot an underage customer who offers a valid state driver's license for identification, because the photograph on the license for those under 21 is a profile or side view, Katz noted.

It's not so easy to spot fake cards, such as college ID cards, if the age has been altered or a picture of the underage person has been placed on an adult's card, he said.

When false ID is presented, the troopers can immediately issue citations to the offenders, he said.

The maximum penalty for those who sell or furnish alcohol to underage drinkers is two years in jail and a $1,000 fine, said Clarence W. Beall III, an assistant state's attorney in Carroll County.

Last year, the state's attorney's office in Carroll County prosecuted 157 cases involving underage drinkers. Of those, 128 involved offenders who were 18, 19 or 20 years old, said David P. Daggett, an assistant state's attorney.

Twenty-three cases involved juveniles under 18, and six other juveniles were prosecuted on charges of driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence, he said.

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