Staff Editorial: Faulty enforcement

The Metropolitan Police Department and other D.C. government agencies began a crackdown on underage drinking and fake IDs after the February death of David Shick, a Georgetown University student killed in an alcohol-related fight. For almost a year this increased effort, which involves a massive taskforce and expensive ID-scanning machines, has resulted in arrests of underage students and large fines for those who serve them alcohol. The D.C. government is misdirecting its resources, taking manpower away from other pressing problems in the District while focusing on a campaign whose methods are of questionable effectiveness.

MPD received grants from a variety of sources allowing the department to begin plans to place plainclothes officers and computerized ID scanners in bars and clubs. These scanners, which cost about $4,000 each, will allow police to instantly evaluate the veracity of the ID. Should officers discover a fake ID, the bearer would be arrested on the spot.

Police have already begun to zero in on bars targeting underage students. Information regarding those establishments is forwarded to authorities through a working group of representatives of area universities including GW. Odds, a bar close to GW, felt the sting of the new initiative when the establishment’s liquor license was suspended and the club was closed for 15 days and fined $10,000 last week.

The District is on the right track in its efforts to prevent clubs and bars from serving alcohol to underage students by fining and closing those establishments. However, using valuable police resources to serve as security at area clubs and arresting underage drinkers is overzealous. D.C. is facing more substantial problems, including deteriorating infrastructure, a dismal public education system and, according to The Washington Post, a high rate of unsolved murders. Public funds would be better used addressing these and other problems.

Research has shown alcohol use among high school and underage college students remains high despite laws against it. Arrests have not diminished underage alcohol use. Officials should encourage responsible drinking rather than move in with raids and arrests. No evidence exists to show that arrests and fines prevent underage drinking. What is clear, though, is that such heavy-handed tactics force the issue underground – where more students who drink too much can be seriously hurt or even die refusing to seek help in fear of legal repercussions.

Spending the District’s already scant resources locking up underage students who drink alcohol is bad policy. MPD should enact policies that recognize the detrimental effects of underage drinking are better resolved through education, and allocate more resources to other pressing concerns.

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