Sunday, November 1, 2009

Underage drinking declines?

This is good news indeed.

I hope the trend continue.

Police say underage drinking in decline


Is underage drinking on the rise in New Braunfels?

Depends on how you look at it, say police officials, who point to a decline in citations over the past two years.

New Braunfels saw a spike in 2006 and 2007 of minor in possession arrests and citations during the summer, but since then the numbers have gone down for consumption of alcohol by minors and driving under the influence by minors, according to police.

The 2008 Comal County Needs Assessment reported the percentage of arrests among juveniles for liquor violations was on the rise since 2002. Since then, police stepped up enforcement, said Lt. Michael Penshorn, spokesman for the New Braunfels Police Department.

Between May and August of 2006, there were 1,068 reported incidents of minors in possession of alcohol, minor consumption, or minors driving under the influence. For the same time period in 2007, there were 933 incidents.

That number has declined in recent years.

There was a sharp drop-off in minors with alcohol-related incidents in 2008, with only 346 reported between the traditional peak months of May to August.

That number declined further to 281 for the same period this year.

Most of the reported incidents take place on New Braunfels’ biggest drinking spot, the rivers.

“With increased enforcement and increase presence by law enforcement on the river, our number of problems with minors drinking has decreased,” Penshorn said.

“We can look back eight years ago and look at the river situation at that time and there were many, many more problems,” he said. “We had lots of problems with alcohol and lewd conduct. When you look at it now, it is nothing compared to years ago. (Our methods) are very effective and I’m sure they will continue to be effective.”

Penshorn said the reported increase of citations in the needs assessment was likely the result of a no-tolerance policy during 2006 and 2007. The policy has since been replaced with a cite-and-release method, which keeps traffic moving on the rivers. This is designed to keep large groups from forming at certain places, which increases the likelihood of underage drinking.

A new approach

Instead of spending its energy on arresting minors, in 2007, law enforcement changed its strategy.

“In and about the middle of 2007 is when we really started ramping up our enforcement on underage drinking,” said Joe Vargas, NBPD assistant chief. “That year, we really started taking a critical look at retail establishments that sold alcohol to minors. And since then, there has been around 40 cases and arrests as far as establishments that sold to minors.”

As police crack down on the establishments that sell alcohol to minors, they are also focused on adults who provide alcohol to minors.

Texas law permits minors to drink in the presence of their parents.

Penshorn said the majority of reported incidents of minors in possession involve adults in their early 20s holding parties and providing alcohol to minors.

Beyond cracking down on those who provide alcohol to minors, police are also turning to education.

Penshorn said a relatively new intervention program targeted at high-school students has been successful in curbing underage drinking.

The community has been receptive to police efforts to educate minors on the dangers of drinking and parents have been helping in continuing the message at home.

“It is very rare where we would have a situation in which a parent purchases alcohol for a minor and then let’s them go off and have a party,” Penshorn said. “It is very rare that we have had to respond to these types of cases.”