Metro speaks on underage drinking

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February 22, 2001

Lt. Patrick Burke of the Metropolitan Police Department and Nicole Hughes, a local attorney, spoke to students at a meeting Tuesday regarding the repercussions of underage drinking.

Burke presented a plan of attack for underage drinking in D.C. Burke said officers will work to arrest those who sell alcohol to minors without checking IDs. Metro may implement a two-cop system where one undercover cop is behind the counter at a liquor store, and another is standing outside to catch minors who attempt to get others to buy alcohol for them. Metro also plans to conduct spot checks where police officers go inside bars and look for people with fake IDs. Finally, Metro will place undercover cops as bouncers in order to apprehend those using a fake ID.

Instead of having on-duty cops focus on underage drinking, police officers will be able to earn over-time by doing these undercover assignments, Burke said.

“By addressing underage drinking, we are attacking the underlying roots of crime,” Burke said. According to a Harvard study Burke presented, 90 percent of teenagers have access to alcohol. (

Burke said he knows students can always find a way to get alcohol. Burke and Hughes said they hope only to curb underage drinking in D.C.

“It is not our ambition to arrest all underage drinkers,” Hughes said.

There have been several recent changes to D.C. laws regarding underage drinking. The initial penalty for drinking is either $300 or 30 days in prison. Courts recognize a penalty of up to $1000 or a year in jail.

“It is a crime to attempt to enter an ABC establishment,” Hughes said. “Any attempt to use a fake ID will result in an arrest if the police catch them.”

Burke outlined options for students to avoid having an arrest or conviction on their record. The first falls under the Diversion Program. The Diversion Program is a pilot program funded by the Department of Public Works. When students are arrested, they will sign an agreement with the DPW that requires them to perform 17 hours of community service. After completing the service, the students will not have a conviction on their record, only an arrest.

Students may also ask for leniency under the Youth Rehabilitation Act. For anyone under the age of 22, they are able to drop a conviction through either supervised or unsupervised probation. Again, the conviction is removed, but not the arrest. To then apply to drop the arrest, one must apply for a motion to seal.

Soon many bars in the neighborhood will implement a scanning device in order to ensure that all IDs presented are authentic. Burke said police officers do not view this as being a way of punishing students or trying to assert power over them. Metro is focusing on underage drinking to lower the incidence rate of alcohol related crimes.

“We’re trying to change your perception of drinking,” Hughs said.

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