Local law enforcement, agencies address underage drinking





A recent compliance check of local liquor and cereal malt beverage retail stores, in which 18 individuals were cited on allegations of furnishing alcohol to minors, has law enforcement seeking answers and looking for ways to curb the problem.

According to a press release from the Garden City Police Department, the GCPD, in cooperation with the Kansas Division of Alcohol Beverage Control, conducted compliance checks on local liquor and cereal malt beverage retail stores on June 15. During the operation, cooperating individuals under the age of 21 were sent into the businesses in an attempt to purchase alcoholic beverages and were required to present their identification, if asked, and could not lie about their age. In several instances, they were asked for their identification and businesses still sold alcoholic beverages to them.

While 34 local vendors were found to be in compliance, individual citations for furnishing alcohol to minors were issued at 18 different locations.

"We were very surprised about the amount of violations we had. In the past, we have had violations, but nothing to this extent. It shows that we still have work to do in this area," GCPD Capt. Michael Reagle said.

Reagle said that they are continuing to monitor those establishments and the individuals who were in violation of the law.

The penalty for an adult providing alcohol to a minor, whether it be an individual purchasing it on behalf of a minor, or an employee of a liquor store, convenience store, grocery store or restaurant, selling to a minor, is a $200 fine and $70 in court costs.

The penalty hasn't deterred the activity, however, and the number of arrests and citations issued so far this year is already 24, compared to 12 in 2012 and 14 in 2011, according to the GCPD.

The number of minors arrested for consumption of alcohol also has been on the increase since 2011, when there were 90 arrests. In 2012, there were 120 arrests, and so far in 2013, there have been 47.

"In most circumstances, when we encounter underage drinking, they are not real open about how they obtained their alcohol," Reagle said. "There are many ways they get it, but it would be naive to say that those over 21 don't purchase alcohol for minors."

For minors who are charged with consumption of alcohol, Reagle said, the fines and penalties are set by the courts.

"If they are 18 to 20 years old, the municipal court sets it, and if they are under 18, they go through district court," he said,

Reagle said that along with compliance checks, the GCPD is utilizing several strategies to curb underage drinking, including community outreach and educational programs, such as Seatbelts Are For Everyone Night and National Night Out.

"One day of our Student Academy is dedicated to underage drinking education," Reagle said. "We have also worked with the Finney County Community Health Coalition on providing materials to middle school-aged students that covers the dangers of underage drinking."

The FCCHC was awarded a grant in 2008 from the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation services, along with 13 other Kansas counties, to educate local liquor store owners about laws against selling to minors and to educate youth about making better choices.

"We had good results in working with youth to help them understand why they shouldn't drink," Verna Weber, executive director of the FCCHC said. "Kids become aware of doing other things and to make good choices."

Communities that Care (CTC), a coalition-based community prevention organization that aims to prevent underage drinking, tobacco use, violence, delinquency, school dropout and substance abuse, conducts annual surveys of intermediate, middle and high school students.

According to findings from CTC surveys regarding alcohol use that were conducted in Finney County from 2007 to 2012, a 9.4 percent decrease was reported in the survey category, "past 30-day alcohol use," a 27.6 percent change from 2007 to 2012. Finney County also demonstrated a 4.9 percent decrease in the survey category, "youth binge drinking," a 26.1 reduction from 2007 to 2012. Both were larger decreases than was seen statewide in that same time period.

Because of the survey's findings indicating a decrease in underage drinking, Weber was surprised by the number of citations issued last week.

"We worked on changing youth behavior but also worked with liquor store owners, so it's something you just have to keep at all the time," Weber said, referring to staff turnover at retail locations as a possible contributor to the number of citations issued.

Despite the fact that the grant ended last year, Weber said that the FCCHC had some funds remaining, allowing the group to continue to educate youth about underage drinking through this summer.

One of the presentations the coalition is doing is called, "Too Good for Drugs," a school-based prevention program that has a separate, developmentally-appropriate curriculum for each grade level. The presentation takes place once a week at the FCCHC's Neighborhood Summer Camp at the Garden Spot Apartments and the Garden City Recreation Commission's Summer Playgrounds, held at Scout and Finnup parks.

The GCRC's Summer Playground program is for kindergartners to 13-year-olds, and Amber Witt, recreation specialist at the GCRC, believes that reaching children in that age group will have a longer lasting impact.

"If they learn it now, hopefully, by the time they're in middle school, they have been educated enough to say no," Witt said.

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