MPD targets underage alcohol use

Metropolitan Police Department officials say this month they will launch a full-scale initiative targeting the District’s underage drinkers and the bars that routinely serve them.

Following the February death of Georgetown University student David Schick during an alcohol-related fight, MPD Chief Charles Ramsey, with the aid of university administrators, began an initiative called D.C. CARES to battle underage drinking in the District.

The Capital Alcohol Reduction Effort focuses on local legislation and aims to create a citywide campus culture that does not promote alcohol abuse, GW Dean of Students Linda Donnells said.

We do have concerns with students getting arrested, Donnells said. Since the beginning of the school year, MPD has arrested numerous students from GW and other universities for underage possession of alcohol and use of false identification, said MPD Lt. Pat Burke, who is spearheading the crackdown.

The bottom line, this year . is to make people think they’re going to take a chance and get as many people as (we) can, Burke said.

Beginning in about two weeks, plain-clothed MPD officers will begin to pose as bouncers in popular bars around D.C. campuses.

The officers will use intelli-check scanners – portable devices similar to credit card machines that scan the magnetic strip found on most state driver’s licenses – to determine validity of IDs.

Local bartenders and club managers said they have seen a larger presence of law enforcement officers in the past year, including D.C.’s Alcohol Beverage Control board.

The ABC has spent more time at the clubs . than they ever have before, said A.J. Arora, the manager of Odds bar and club. Before you might see them every three of four months, now you see them once or twice a month.

Last week the District fined Odds, at 1160 20th St., $10,000 and suspended its liquor license for 15 days after ABC officers found underage patrons drinking inside.

It’s a lot of money, Arora said. It’s going to hurt us a lot.

Arora said patrons are always asked to present ID at the door.

If their ID says they’re 21, how can we determine if they’re not? he said. If the ID says they’re 21, what can we legally do? If we don’t let them in, places like Tequila (Grill) or Rumors will.

In June the D.C. City Council passed the Underage Drinking Emergency Act of 2000, which added a heftier penalty for using fake IDs.

Now, anyone caught using a fake ID will be arrested on the spot and fined $300. The offense also comes with up to 90 days of jail time.

If it is fake, we’ll lock the person up for false representation, Burke said. People need to think about it. They’re taking their chances. It’s a criminal charge. They’re going to wind up in a jail cell and that’s not a pretty thing.

Police know which establishments to target for underage drinking based on tips from area universities.

GW administrators keep a running tally of the number of palmcards distributed on campus by bars and clubs promoting their drink specials and college nights.

They forward the statistics – along with information they compile during alcohol-related disciplinary hearings – to MPD and the ABC.

We’ll use (that information) to hit the hardcore places, Burke said. Through an agreement with MPD, arrest documents relating to GW students are forwarded to the University Police Department. UPD may then press charges against the student, in addition to District charges.

The files are also sent from UPD to GW’s Student Judicial Services for prosecution.

This semester, SJS has charged 27 people for alcohol-related incidents, said David Pine, manager of SJS. Pine said he was not sure how many GW students face charges in the District.

I do not deal with outside agencies, he said.

GW is not alone in its efforts to control alcohol-related problems. Through CARES, administrators from other D.C. universities have been able to come together and discuss individual policies.

Culturally, it’s something we’re struggling with, Donnells said. I don’t think GW is being singled out as more or less responsible than other (colleges in the area).

In areas surrounding D.C.’s college campuses, police reports show elevated numbers of assaults and vandalism.

Around some of these college areas, if you look at a lot of the assaults and vandalism and graffiti, a lot of what’s happening is because people are drunk and because of underage drinking, Burke said. If you want to get to the roots of the problem, you go to underage drinking.

Local bartenders and club managers say they think the increased enforcement so far has had an impact on the underage drinking practices.

I think the kids have gotten a lot smarter and don’t drink as much outside, Arora, said. I think they’re drinking more in the dorms.

At GW programs like the Student Activity Center’s Triple Play are designed to give students an alternative to drinking, Donnells said.

Mike Walker, senior assistant dean of students, said the improvements so far in monitoring underage drinking are just the beginning.

There’s a storm front on the horizon, he said.

ABC’s Burke said he expects more student arrests in the future.

This is going to be a super year for enforcement, because of the new law, Burke said. But really, the best is yet to come from us.

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