`Tis the season for underage drinking

March 28, 2003 No Comments

Rick Emerson. The San Diego Union – Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Mar 28, 2003. pg. B.11

In spite of increasing demands on law enforcement agencies to ensure homeland security, more common problems that threaten public health and safety continue to need our attention.

Over a dozen law enforcement agencies represented by the San Diego County Police Chiefs and Sheriff’s Association continue to address the biggest threat to the health and safety of teens and young adults: underage drinking. Between mid-March and mid-April, high school and college students throughout the county are on spring break. Though not all students equate spring break with alcohol, underage and binge drinking pose increased risks to many during this time. High school and college students are targets for travel promotions with claims such as, “From the hottest beaches to the craziest clubs, it’s more party madness!” Local leaders, law enforcement, prevention professionals and youth advocates work year- round to create a different environment for San Diego.

The San Diego County Law Enforcement Task Force on Underage Drinking, under the auspices of the Police Chiefs and Sheriff’s Association, is conducting its third annual Operation Safeguard to reduce underage drinking and youth access to alcohol during the spring break period. Operation Safeguard implements a variety of enforcement procedures throughout the county; including decoy operations to prevent alcohol sales to minors, shoulder-tap operations to prevent adult customers from purchasing alcohol for minors, “trap door” operations to prevent the use of fake IDs in bars and nightclubs, ID checks at the border to prevent juveniles from entering Mexico, DUI checkpoints and roving patrols to prevent alcohol-related crashes, and controlled party dispersals to reduce underage drinking in private residences.

While some may question the use of police resources for such operations, the facts provide the answer: alcohol is the No. 1 drug of choice among young people. It is also a factor in the leading causes of death for teens and young adults, including motor vehicle crashes, homicide and suicide.

Alcohol-related problems create an enormous drain on law enforcement resources. In 2001, the San Diego Police Department spent 4,219 hours of service time responding to over 7,500 party calls, many of which involved underage drinkers. Operation Safeguard and similar enforcement tactics aimed at preventing youth alcohol-related problems before they occur are therefore time- and cost-effective strategies for creating a safer San Diego County. In fact, the Police Chiefs and Sheriff’s Association has recently applied for funding from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to obtain resources that would enable more joint operations like Operation Safeguard to occur year-round.

During spring break, underage drinking reaches a crescendo in destinations like Palm Springs, Daytona Beach and even here in San Diego. Because college and high school spring breaks are spread out over a seven-week period, however, San Diego has not been inundated with concentrated hordes of rowdy revelers.

But there are measurable signs that underage drinking is happening. On a recent weekend, 10 people were arrested for using false identification at bars in Pacific Beach, a popular neighborhood for spring break celebrants.

Doormen at those bars also have seized dozens of fake IDs from out-of-state visitors. A March 14 shoulder-tap operation targeted adults who were willing to buy alcohol for minors and four people were arrested. In the coming weeks, more high schools will be taking spring break, and Operation Safeguard’s focus will move toward the border to ensure minors aren’t illegally crossing into Mexico to drink.

As our servicemen and women risk their lives in Iraq, and Americans remain on high alert, the risks associated with underage drinking may seem insignificant. Yet the negative consequences continue to impact the lives of young people, their families and innocent victims every day in a variety of ways — from school failure to sexual assault, motor vehicle crashes and suicide.

Parents and other adults need to act responsibly and understand that providing alcohol to minors is against the law and puts youth at risk for a host of negative consequences including injury and death. Law enforcement alone will not solve the problem of underage drinking, but working in partnership with other public health and safety agencies, community groups, retailers, parents and youth, we can make a difference.

The San Diego County Policy Panel on Youth Access to Alcohol’s Web address is www.alcoholpolicypanel.org.
[Illustration]
1 DRAWING; Credit: Tim Foley

Credit: Emerson, chief of the Chula Vista Police Department, is chair of the San Diego County Police Chiefs and Sheriff’s Association.

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