Law enforcement prepares for underage drinking during Spring Break

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    With Spring Break days away, some minors may be hoping to have lady luck on their side as they partake in underage drinking.

    Some students under 21 still drink – many by using fake IDs.

    A 20-year-old sophomore communication studies major, who wished to remain anonymous, said she has been using a fake ID for more than three years and has only had trouble with it twice. She said it’s all about being careful.

    “A lot of the times when I use it, I’m with people who are 21, so it doesn’t seem like I’m underage or with others who have fake IDs,” she said.

    She said she will be in Austin and plans to drink during Spring Break. Austin, famous for its Sixth Street bar district, was recently under the scrutiny of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

    According to the TABC Web site, on Jan. 24, TABC officers conducted Operation Fake Out in which TABC and other law enforcement officers worked together with authorized alcohol retailers in an effort to thwart underage drinking and fake ID usage. TABC officers waited inside places where IDs are checked and inspected IDs further for signs of falsification. This resulted in 15 arrests related to underage drinking and fake IDs.

    Lt. Jimmy Zuehlke, a TABC officer in the region that includes Austin, said the commission is preparing for Spring Break the same way it did last year – with multiple sting operations.

    According to the TABC Web site, it ran sting operations in March 2007 along Interstate 35 and other major highways that lead to the Gulf Coast.

    In Austin, 6 percent of the 62 sting operation attempts resulted in illegal sales of alcohol to minors, compared with 48 percent of the 25 operations in Fort Worth, records show.

    Zuehlke said more sting operations were run in Austin because more teams worked there.

    “Austin police also have a unit dedicated to alcohol control, and one of their main focuses is running the minor stings,” Zuehlke said.

    He said other cities may not have that luxury.

    According to the TABC, the commission targeted South Padre Island, Corpus Christi and Galveston during the weeks many colleges were on Spring Break last year. TABC officers issued 1,919 criminal citations during that time.

    Capt. Richard Jauregui, a TABC officer for the San Antonio area, said about 600 of those citations were for minors in possession. Other citations stemmed from public intoxication or using fake IDs.

    Sgt. Charlie Cloud, a member of the Enforcement Division for the TABC in Tarrant County, said he has worked in South Padre during previous Spring Breaks.

    “We will write hundreds and hundreds of tickets down there in a matter of days,” Cloud said.

    Despite the TABC patrols in South Padre during Spring Break, students go there with the intent to drink.

    Leah Joslin, a 20-year-old nursing major, said she went to South Padre during Spring Break last year.

    “I think the general mind-set is that everyone feels invincible and Spring Break is the week to let your inhibitions go,” Joslin said. “No one worries about underage drinking.”

    Other students won’t leave campus for Spring Break.

    Dennis Siaw-Lattey, hall director of Moncrief Hall, estimated that 30 to 35 percent of students will stay on campus during the break.

    Cloud said although the TABC doesn’t see a real increase in underage drinking and fake ID use during Spring Break in Tarrant County, that doesn’t stop officers from looking. In 2007, according to TABC records, five citations for fake IDs were given in Tarrant County during Spring Break.

    “We do all kinds of special events and special operations during the Spring Break period to make sure our bases are covered,” Cloud said.

    Dave Mitchell, owner of The University Pub, said that in the nine years he has owned the bar, he has always had to combat the use of fake IDs.

    “They are everywhere, and a lot of the times, they are impossible to catch,” Mitchell said. “We work pretty hard at trying to keep it 21 and up in here – I’m not naive enough to think we are lucky enough to do that all the time.”

    Mitchell said the TABC has run stings in his bar before. In the past two months, he said, he has had two to three clearly underage teenagers come in his bar who were working with the TABC. Mitchell said the TABC won’t try to trick a bartender into serving an underage customer, but wants bartenders checking IDs.

    Mitchell said when he does catch someone with a fake ID, he is nice about it but asks that person to leave.

    “I want them to come back as customers of mine when they turn 21, so there is no reason to make anybody upset,” Mitchell said.

    He said he doesn’t feel like serving an underage drinker is worth putting his business or his bartenders at risk.

    Another student who uses a fake ID said she doesn’t look down on the TABC but does feel busting TCU students for drinking is overemphasized and there are more serious crimes law enforcement officers could focus on.

    Cloud said TABC officers do their jobs not to be liked, but because they are enforcing the law. Whether students like officers is not going to affect how TABC works, he said.

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