A viable approach

Several months ago, items printed in the Police Blotter revealed a number of citations issued following a sweep by state officials, designed to discover restaurant sales of liquor to underage patrons.

We should say “entrap” rather than “discover” since, in fact, what the authorities do in such cases is create the situation in which the offense can occur, then motivate the offense. Authorities send in an undercover provocateur who should be asked for an ID and, when no ID is requested, and a drink is served, law enforcement action ensues.

Not to say the act of serving a minor is right. It most certainly is not, and when a violation occurs outside the artificially created situation, action is warranted.

What we question in cases such as the “sting” noted here is whether it is a good use of taxpayers’ dollars, and if it deals effectively with the real problem

Ask yourself: How many underage locals go to restaurants to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages? Our guess is we can count the number who do so in a year on the fingers of our two hands.

Alcohol consumption by youngsters is a terrible problem, but very little of the problem occurs in restaurants. Alcohol abuse is the No. 1 drug abuse problem among young people, and it must be continually addressed. The point at which the problem must be attacked by law enforcement is not with set-ups at restaurants, but in the identification, arrest and prosecution of those adults who purchase alcohol for minors.

It doesn’t happen in restaurants, folks. It happens at liquor stores. It does not happen because liquor store owners are complicit with adults who make the purchases. How is one to know an adult or friends recently of legal age are purchasing alcohol for underage drinkers? How is a clerk to know some desperate adult wishing to ingratiate himself to the youngsters is purchasing alcohol? Or that parents, lacking any good sense, consumed with being their children’s friends, are providing alcohol to the kids?

This problem cannot be answered by monitoring liquor stores, or by a grandstand sting operation at restaurants. And it is a problem that the upcoming graduation weekend illuminates. If law enforcement officials come upon underage drinkers, we hope every effort is made to seek the identity of the person or persons who provided alcohol to the youngsters, and arrest them.

While a consistent answer to this problem will not soon be developed, our community has employed a way to deal with drinkers of legal age who drive while under the influence: the DUI Court program — a program that serves as an example of a rational way to handle all manner of alcohol and drug offenses.

The program involves a trade: in lieu of jail time, an offender undergoes extensive monitoring, therapy and supervision. If the program guidelines are met, a significant number of participants do not reoffend, the highways are safer for their absence, and the public is saved the expense of retributive, jail-oriented approaches.

The program might now be in jeopardy due to funding concerns. This program should not be allowed to fail and, in fact, we need other programs like it. An article in this week’s SUN (A5) details the program and notes the May 20 meeting date, at which the program, its successes, its value to the community and its future will be discussed. Citizens interested in seeing this program continue should attend, along with numerous law enforcement, court representatives, elected officials, treatment providers and support group leaders who are expected at the meeting.

It is “problem solving “ programs such as this that have a significant impact on a community, not showy, television cop show busts. Perhaps meeting organizers can convince state liquor officials to attend and the discussion can branch out to include effective ways of dealing with the problem of underage drinking.

Karl Isberg