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Police check-ups change teens' alcohol access

South Carolina teens may have noticed an increase in enforcement for underage drinking since January. Indeed, the fact that local police officers are upping their efforts to nab underage drinkers is no secret; Colleton County and other areas are targeting their efforts more than ever. After officers received a refresher training course in identifying underage drinkers, a rising number of tickets has been plaguing the juvenile community.

Still, members of the Fourteenth Circuit Alcohol Enforcement Team (AET) say they would rather not be handing out citations to young drinkers. For many, the AET exists solely to "catch" those who are breaking the law, but members of the task force see their jobs very differently. Underage drinking is a more widespread problem that deserves an education focus rather than simply criminal action.

As a result, the bulk of the ticket-writing is now focused on vendors who sell alcohol to young people, instead of targeting the young drinkers themselves. Bars and alcohol retailers are under fire because of their non-compliance with state mandates that prohibit sales to minors. Local officers are increasing the number of sting operations in which underage drinkers are intentionally sent in to purchase alcohol from these establishments. Cutting off the alcohol at the source is more likely to reduce the number of underage drinkers without resulting in a higher number of tickets for this vulnerable population.

New information from the local law enforcement agencies say that about one in three informants were able to purchase alcohol from these retailers. This is an alarmingly high rate that is almost certainly contributing to young people's ability to access alcohol in the area. With an increased crack-down on the businesses that are providing underage drinkers with alcohol, fewer tickets will be required among the actual young population. This is a smart strategy that will keep more underage residents out of trouble.

www.colletontoday.com, "Tickets don't tell the tale" George Salsberry, Aug. 27, 2013

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