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Police aim to crack down on underage intoxication

The City Council recently implemented a $35,000 pilot program to pay the overtime salaries for a core squad of police officers responding to parties where underage drinking is suspected.

After the music is turned down and identifications are checked, minors caught with alcohol can be cited and their parents or other capable relatives are often called to pick them up. The squad's busiest time is Friday and Saturday when parties are most likely to happen, said Beth Baland.

"It's really situational," she said. "Every situation is different and it's up to the officer to determine if they should issue MIPs (minor in possession) or call someone to come pick them up."

Baland also said that another goal of the squad is to stop noise disturbances.

Amanda Picker, a freshman at UNM, said officers have showed up to parties in the University area so many times that she can't remember them all. She said in each instance she witnessed the unthinkable.

"The cops ask if anyone's underage and ask to speak to the owners of the house," she said. "Then they tell everyone to leave, and everyone leaves in their cars after they've been drinking."

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She said many of the party-goers flee even before the officers get out of their cars.

"The cops didn't seem to notice that people were driving away drunk," Picker said.

Baland said she knew nothing of officers allowing intoxicated party-goers to drive away.

But now, officers have the option of calling anyone from a grandparent to Social Services or taking intoxicated party-goers to jail as preventive measures toward scattering, she said.

"I think it's a good move," said Jill Anne Yeagley, the program manager for Center of Substance Abuse Prevention at UNM. "At least in terms of really young students, especially high schoolers."

Even if parents are upset from being called in the middle of the night, Yeagley says it's a good thing to make them aware of their children's drinking.

John Steiner, who works at the Center of Substance Abuse Prevention, said that people in the United States receive mixed messages regarding drinking values.

"You've got advertisements telling (children) one thing and then society saying another or nothing at all," Steiner said.

According to a sociological study, parents in the United States are more reluctant to introduce their children to alcohol before they are 21, unlike other countries where it is considered an integral part of the culture from a young age.

"Some countries - take Italy and France for example where wine is often served with a meal - have a much more homogenous culture than the United States, meaning the people there agree on what is acceptable and what is not," Yeagley said. "But in the United States, we have so many cultures there will probably never be in agreement on a shared set of values."

Picker says underage drinking is inevitable.

"It's going to happen, I don't think it's something you can stop," she said. "So we should try and put more energy into education and responsible drinking habits."

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