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Underage drinking: Crackdown continues

By Staff | Feb 14, 2009

Whether it’s training provided by a grant three years ago or just plain luck, the number of people charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor has increased lately.

In the past month, three people have appeared in Faribault County District Court for providing alcohol to someone under 21 years old.

Police Chief Dean Vereide says the arrests weren’t part of a sting, but rather the result of ‘circumstances’ involved.

Vereide says one incident involved a citizen reporting a loud party at a residence.

“We happened to be at the right place at the right time. A lot of law enforcement is just that,” he says.

Vereide credits tips from the public in helping officials apprehend wrongdoers.

Residents are our ‘eyes and ears,’ he adds.

Part of the credit for the arrests may be due to a one-time grant Faribault County received in 2005.

That year, the Minnesota Institute of Public Health funded a program to target underage drinking and those furnishing alcohol to them. “Our officers have been trained in what to look for,” says Vereide.

Countywide the ZAP program (Zero Alcohol Providers) was implemented to address the problem of illegal consumption of alcohol.

The county was one of three to receive a $5,000 grant that could be used to help pay for officer overtime hours and develop strategies and educational instruction.

From July 2005 to May 2007, 13 arrests involving furnishing alcohol to minors were made in the county. Of that amount, nine were in Blue Earth.

During that same period, nine citations were issued for underage drunk driving; 72 for underage drinking for those 18-20 years old; and 44 under 18 years old.

Despite tougher enforcement, drinking among youths remains a prevalent problem.

Vereide says there are always going to be persons willing to buy alcohol for minors.

County Attorney Brian Roverud says one of the persons charged has two previous convictions.

Furnishing alcohol to a minor is a gross misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $3,000 fine.

“We implemented a mandatory sentence of 30 days in jail on the first offense,” says the county attorney.

Under the county’s ZAP sentencing guidelines, first-time offenders would face a fine of $750 plus court surcharges, be placed on probation for two years, must do Sentence to Serve, obtain a chemical dependency evaluation, abstain from use of alcohol and submit to random drug testing.

Judge Douglas Richards says sentencing is handled on a case by case basis.

“Hopefully the sentences we are giving are sending a message,” says Richards.

Vereide says the police department works closely with liquor establishments — especially the municipal liquor store — in identifying people who may be supplying underage drinkers.

“Our officers continue to focus their attention on catching the people who are buying it and are the suppliers,” Vereide adds.