By Zack Taylor
For some students, drinking is a fun and relaxing activity. For others it is a dangerous risky endeavor.
Every year the University of Georgia Police Force arrests hundreds of underage drinkers.
While it may be the common thought among students that police are out to catch them for drinking underage, University Police Chief Jimmy Williamson has a different insight.
“Typically anytime a student any contact with the police is when they over consume,” Williamson said.
“It’s then that students will have poor decision making or become a victim and police will get involved.”
Williamson said that when he asked is asked who complains most about student behavior the answer shocks people.
“What happens is [students] over consume, they do something silly and other students call in and complain.” Williamson said. “If we find they’re drinking and under 21 there are going to be arrests.”
There is a misconception about underage drinking that Williamson addresses.
“The law doesn’t say you have to be drunk, the law is about possession.” Williamson said. “If you have one drink in the hand and the other in your body, that’s possession under Georgia law.”
Williamson said that the simple act of an underage individual just holding a friend’s beverage can constitute possession, however police are at liberty to use discretion.
“If you explain to the officer that you are just holding it and the officer doesn’t smell any beer on you, then he’ll probably cut you some slack,” Williamson said.
A student arrested for underage possession is not only directly taken to the Athens-Clarke County police department where they are charged, but also is punished by the University for a Code of Conduct violation.
According to the University code of conduct, underage possession of alcohol is in violation of the Code of Conduct.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act gave University the authority to contact the parents of a student who has been charged with alcohol possession.
However, this measure is completely optional and is at the complete discretion of The Office of Judicial Programs.
According to the University code of conduct there are two levels of violations relating to alcohol.
A Level I offense concerns possession and or use of alcohol. A Level II violation concerns use paired with operating a vehicle, committing a violent act, disorderly conduct or damage of property.
There are punishments for both Level I and II violations. For Level I the punishment includes the mandatory attendance of an alcohol education program and 6-12 months of probation.
For Level II offenses there are additional sanctions including suspension and other measures to be determined by the University based on the individual case.
Students are arrested for underage possession every year, but it is not a priority of the University Police department, which only arrests approximately 250 students a year for underage drinking.
The amount of students they notice who are underage and intoxicated is far higher, however.
“If we wanted to arrest every underage drinker it would be so easy,” Williamson said. “It would be like shooting fish in a barrel.”
Even with the risks, students still drink and are arrested for underage possession.
“My friends and I used to go skate at the Hull Street parking deck and drink a beer,” said Zach Parker, who was arrested for under possession last year. “It’s sound dumb and it really was.”
Parker had found the area to be s safe zone and really considered it no less risky then drinking at his own residents.
The protocol for Parker and his friends was to drink a beer while riding a skateboard to the bottom of the parking deck and then ride the elevator back up to the top.
“In our minds we had done so many things before in that parking deck,” Parker said. “What could go wrong?”
On this particular day one of Parker’s friends felt something was wrong.
“He suggested we get rid of our beers before we went down and my other friend and I didn’t listen to him,” Parker said. “We should have listened to his infinite wisdom.”
On what would be there last ride down, a University police officer approached the three students and questioned them about their activities at the parking deck.
“You can’t really skate in the parking deck so that’s why she approached us,” Parker said.
The officer noticed Parker and one of his friends were holding beer cans and after an ID check they were immediately arrested for minor possession.
“My other friend was let go, even though he had been drinking,” Parker said. “He just didn’t have any beer on him at the time.”
University police are not the only law enforcement that catches underage drinkers.
“The first semester of my freshman year I got a minor possession charge downtown,” said Bryan Thompson, a student at the University.
Thompson said he was caught when his friend tried to sneak him a fake ID downtown when an officer noticed the handoff.
“He made me show him the fake and both me and my friend were arrested,” Thompson said.
Even though he was arrested by an Athens-Clarke County officer outside of University property, Thompson was still liable for a Code of Conduct violation because he was a student.
Consumption of alcohol is a part of not only University life, but life in general. While it is tempting for young students to engage in underage consumption there are risks involved.
If students decide to run the risk of drinking underage there are things that can be done to keep them safe.
Although Williamson said he could never condone drinking underage, he said the problem does not lie with drinking, but excess.
“If everyone drank in a responsible manner then I would never know how old you are because I would have no reason to ask,” Williamson said.