City Council to consider funding for enforcement of underage drinking law

Sean Goebel/File
Sean Goebel/File
Sean Goebel/File

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Berkeley City Council will consider a grant that would fund increased enforcement of underage drinking laws at its meeting Tuesday.

If approved, the grant would provide Berkeley Police Department with $75,500 to fund various measures, such as undercover sting operations, to combat underage drinking.

“The money allows us to do the types of operations that we typically wouldn’t be able to do without funding,” said BPD officer Steve Rego.

Each year, the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control selects local police agencies to fund and assist in the enforcement of alcohol-related laws. The department has awarded grant money to BPD each year since 2003.

According to the recommendation submitted to the City Council, BPD plans to identify sites where alcohol is most accessible for students and begin a dual strategy — involving education and enforcement — to prevent sales to underage buyers. BPD also plans to work closely with UCPD on these issues, said BPD spokesperson officer Jennifer Coats.

“The program itself is definitely useful in trying to help us deter alcohol-related crimes,” Coats said.

In past years, BPD has used grant money to fund overtime for Party Patrol enforcement teams, investigate adults who buy alcohol for minors and educate businesses on alcohol laws. BPD also works from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agents on these operations, Rego said.

Alcohol abuse by minors remains an issue police are trying to curb. Since residence hall move-in day, UCPD has responded to 13 alcohol-related illness incidents, prompting BPD to dispatch plainclothes officers to areas near fraternities as well as other popular locations on Southside.

In 2011, UCPD arrested 119 people for liquor-law violations on campus and took disciplinary action on another 608, and BPD arrested 40 people, according to the 2012-13 UC Berkeley Annual Campus Safety Report.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, however, wants the City Council to explore alternative methods for curbing underage drinking, such as using social media campaigns to educate students.

“The city’s been doing this for many years,” Worthington said about the grant. “I don’t think this grant will do a single thing to adjust the high number of alcohol-related hospitalizations.”

Similarly, Roland Peterson, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, believes Southside businesses likely will remain unaffected by increased law enforcement.

“The vast majority of businesses are responsible, so I don’t think there is any cause for concern,” he said.

Worthington said the city should use these grants to promote positive alternatives to alcohol rather than punish businesses that are “tricked into breaking the law” through undercover operations.

“If you want to reach a large number of people, I think you need to use modern tools to communicate to them,” he said. “What we’re doing now is such a 20th-century concept.”

Alison Fu covers city news. Contact her at [email protected].

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