State cracking down on underage drinking, again

Late last year, and again in February, a joint effort between the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles’ Fraud Unit and the Fredonia Police Department ended with arrests for possession of fraudulent identification in the Fredonia area. The state recently announced the DMV and the state Liquor Authority will again attempt to crack down on underage drinking on a statewide scale.

This crack down will include sweeps of establishments holding liquor licenses searching for fake IDs and the illegal sale of alcohol to minors. Those potential places of interest include bars, restaurants, liquor stores and grocery stores. The two local colleges, Jamestown Community College and the State University of Fredonia maintain that they have support and awareness programs to subvert underage drinking, and subsequent use of fake IDs.

“Fredonia is always concerned about the impact of alcohol and other drugs on the health and safety of all members of the campus community,” said Virginia Horvath, SUNY Fredonia President.

“The staff at the university, including the University Police, work closely with local law enforcement agencies year-round to ensure that students are safe and are held accountable for their actions, such as underage drinking or possessing fake IDs. They are subject to disciplinary action and criminal charges under campus regulations, as well as state and federal law.”

The state will be working with local agencies in various college towns to implement the sweeps.

The process has reportedly already started with the return of college students for the fall semester.

“Underage drinking can lead to bad decisions that could have lifelong consequences, or worse, and this administration is committed to taking proactive measures to prevent young New Yorkers from purchasing and abusing alcohol,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a news release. “These statewide enforcement sweeps will continue to be a part of our efforts to deter underage drinking and the avoidable tragedies that too often follow.”

Individuals under the age of 21 caught attempting to use fake identifications or false documents with the intent of purchasing alcohol can be arrested and have their actual licenses revoked for a minimum of 90 days or up to one year.

As for businesses selling alcohol to minors, they can be charged by the state Liquor Authority and face civil penalties of $10,000 per offense. Businesses that have been charged on numerous occasions face suspension and revocation of liquor licenses.

“The fake ones keep getting better and better,” said Kurt Johnson, owner of Shawbucks.

Johnson said his establishment has turned away numerous people with suspected fake IDs over the years, but emphasized the fraudulent ones are “nearly perfect.” Johnson described the dilemma as a public safety issue and one that local bars should work in tandem with law enforcement agencies to solve. The Shawbucks owner disagreed with some laws that punish businesses who serve minors in possession of an ID that appears to be legitimate but is actually fraudulent.

“It’s like a home owner installing the best security system for his home and someone still breaks in, yet in this case the home owner is at fault,” Johnson said of the fine attached to serving individuals with a fake ID who are under the age of 21. “(The state) is starting to get that it’s not our intention to serve minors when this happens.”

Several years ago, Johnson said he purchased an ID scanner that could determine if an ID was fraudulent — six months later his machine was obsolete. Johnson has since thrown out the $1,500 device due to the frequency of which fake IDs are upgraded to trick identification systems. He believes similar systems should be more accessible for bars and less expensive to purchase – more in line with credit card readers.

In December 2017, the Fredonia Police Department and the DMV’s Fraud Unit implemented “Operation Prevent,” an annual initiative, concluding in 26 arrests, and 17 additional arrests in February .

“Operation Prevent is a DMV initiative conducted year-round that targets concerts, bars, drinking establishments, events and other underage hot spots,” DMV officials told the Dunkirk Observer at the time.

At Jamestown Community College, currently a dry campus, Kayla Crosby, campus life director, said fake IDs aren’t necessarily a problem on campus or one that has had a significant impact, but noted that the campus has numerous initiatives regarding underage drinking awareness that promote “wise choices.”

Drinking on campus is strictly prohibited even if a student is over the age of 21. Campus residents who disobey the policy are dealt with by restorative justice consequences. Frequent offenders could potentially be removed from their dorm rooms.

“The staff at JCC works very hard so that students have positive opportunities to engage in and we do a lot with the community to educate students on underage drinking,” she said.

Crosby said JCC partners with the Chautauqua Alcohol & Abuse Council (CASAC) and the Mental Health Association to educate students.

One event held annually is the Alcohol Literacy Challenge and a separate alcohol-free mix-off. The literacy challenge is managed by CASAC. The hour-long program informs students on the role of modern media and its influence on alcohol consumption.The mix-off is a competition where students compete by crafting non-alcoholic drinks. The event also provides information regarding alcohol awareness. On Oct. 24, Chris Sandy, a motivational speaker, will visit JCC to detail his experience with alcohol and a subsequent incident that resulted in the death of one person.

Crosby emphasized that JCC staff members promote “wise decisions and smart choices” as alternatives to underage drinking.

At Fredonia, Horvath reiterated a similar sentiment about promoting healthier choices and educating students on the hazards of drinking. On campus, there are programs implemented that provide students with related information.

“Fredonia’s Counseling Center and the Student Health Center provide assessment and assistance to students,” Horvath said. “Prevention, Advocacy, and Wellness Services (PAWS) encourages students to take an active role in making informed and responsible decisions about their health. Educational programs include focusing on self care with regard to alcohol and other drugs, rape and sexual assault, relationship violence, and sexual health.”