Minor Consuming; major consequences
By Chase Van Flein-Hage
Sun Star Contributor
What’s the cost of one drink? If you’re underage, it may be more than the money you pay for it.
Last year, according to the UAF Campus Security Report, there were 44 arrests on campus for liquor law violations. As of early November, campus police reported 46 violations ending in arrests. The violations included in the statistic were for minors consuming alcohol and for furnishing alcohol to a minor. Furnishing alcohol to a minor makes up roughly 5 to 15 percent of total incidents on campus, according to police representatives.Rebecca Coleman, a 20-year-old communications major and residence assistant for Moore Hall, doesn’t think there is a drinking problem on campus. “I don’t really,” she said. “I mean, people drink, it happens.”
When residence assistants learn that a student is drinking, Coleman said, they usually confront the individual and fill out a situation report. Unless the person drinking is being belligerent or is potentially in danger, police aren’t notified. For most of those incidents, says Coleman, the penalties “are usually an alcohol class that costs money that they must attend and community service. If they are residents they will have a restricted list of visitors.” If they aren’t residents, she said, “They’ll be trespassed from the building.”
When campus police get involved, the individual is usually detained briefly and issued a citation, according to Lt. Syrilyn Tong of the University Police Department. First offenses are treated with a warning. “It’s been decriminalized, absolutely no prison time,” she said. The second offense is called a “repeat offense” and the third gets the “habitual title.” Both are misdemeanor crimes and go on an individual’s permanent record as adults.
Approaches to underage drinking differ among local law enforcement agencies.
Lt. Matt Soden, a 15-year veteran of the Fairbanks Police Department, said that when FPD officers encounter a minor consuming alcohol their general procedure is, “to contact a parent and make sure they’re safe.” Afterward, “a citation is issued which is similar to a driving ticket. One-third or more are released to their parents,” he said. “Half are issued citations and less than one-third are taken to jail.”
Most students know that under Alaska law, it’s illegal for anyone under 21 to drink. But many don’t understand the consequences of breaking that law. Ashley Kermes, 18, has twice been charged for minor consuming, both times by the Alaska State Troopers. “It ruined old jobs.” Kermes said. “Some people said I was a bad influence, they told my friends that I would bring them down a bad path.”
According to Kermes, her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was below .08 percent, the state’s legal definition of intoxication, on both occasions. She wasn’t putting people’s lives in danger, she said, and had she been in a UAF dorm room at the time, it is very unlikely that the residence assistants would have involved the police.
Kermes now has two misdemeanor charges on her permanent record. “It can totally affect my life, even more,” she said, describing the repercussions as “too harsh.”
“If the BAC is below .08 and they’re not belligerent or putting peoples life in danger,” Kermes continued, “you shouldn’t be charged for a crime.”
Tong, who also works with the alcohol awareness and problem-drinking prevention programs, said that the goal of campus police is to encourage responsible drinking – “To show that there are certain behaviors that aren’t healthy.”
Last year UAF police confronted quite a few binge-drinking incidents, Tong explained, noting the top five highest blood alcohol contents ranged from .335 to .423 percent. This is the type of drinking that the UAFPD is trying to control and hopefully prevent.
“Unfortunately, the first thing to go are your inhibitions,” Tong pointed out. She defines responsible drinking as, “When you’re in control and cognizant of what you’re doing and saying. When your behavior goes over that,” she said, “you’ve crossed the line of responsibly drinking.”