Drinking Underage in a College Town

The average student turns 21 during their junior year of university, leaving a large majority of freshman, sophomores, and juniors under the legal US drinking age.

People ages 12 to 20 years drink 11% of total alcohol consumed in the United States even though it is illegal under the age of 21, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also said that more than 90% of this alcohol consumed by minors is in the form of binge drinks.

University of Georgia Chief of Police Jimmy Williamson said in an interview with the Red & Black that he is noticing rising blood alcohol content levels in students being arrested.

“The alcohol levels that we’re seeing now are much greater and we are noticing that versus five, seven years ago, we’re having to involve EMS a little more than we used to,” Williamson told the Red & Black. “We’re seeing in the 0.30s more than we ever have.”

Downtown Athens is filled with endless venues and social opportunities, many of which involve alcohol. How do police enforce drinking laws when nearly half of the UGA student population is underage?

The Athens-Clarke County Police have many divisions within their department, according to their website. The ACCPD website said the Downtown Operations Unit is a part of the Uniform Division which “consists of the men and women who patrol Athens-Clarke County and meet the public on a regular basis.”

Lieutenant Gary Epps of the ACCPD Downtown Operations Unit said their purpose is to “provide the safest environment possible for what is considered the entertainment district for Athens-Clarke County,” especially when the majority of underage arrests are made in the downtown area, according to Lt. Epps.

“The Athens-Clarke County Police Department is fully aware of the amount of underage drinking that occurs throughout our community,” said Lt. Epps. “On any given night, the officers may be outnumbered 1000 to 1. We rely heavily on officer presence and strong enforcement of laws [and] ordinances to accomplish our order maintenance mandate.”

Although law enforcers may occasionally be outnumbered, their presence in the downtown area imposes a lasting impact on those drinking underage.

“While a strong enforcement stance may not prevent underage drinking, it certainly helps curb behaviors associated with the consumption of alcohol, which is most often the catalyst for other risky behaviors that lead to victimization,” Lt. Epps said. “The fear of being arrested seems to have a calming effect for some.”

Many underage drinkers agree with Lieutenant Epps. Underage Sophomore in Athens said the police presence in the downtown area impacts his behavior when drinking.

“No matter how much I drink, I see the cops on the corner and I sober up instantly,” Sophomore said. “I know that I can’t draw attention to myself for fear of being arrested.”

Lt. Epps said the “vast majority of underage arrests are made only after attention is drawn to the violator for other observed behavior.” He said violations range from open containers, urinating in public, and getting turned down from bars with a fake ID.

Bar A’s Manager agreed to an interview on the condition that he, his workers, and his bar remain unidentified. Manager said that underage drinkers are many times caught for offenses such as dress code violation before getting in trouble for being under 21.

“I myself was denied once going out to [a bar downtown] for having my hat on backwards,” Bar A’s Manager said. “I think things like that are what draw attention to a lot of these underage drinkers.”

Veteran Bartender at Bar A said she gauges potential underage drinkers through both their demeanor and conversation.

“One way I can tell who might be underage is by the way they act and talk about alcohol,” Bartender said. “I’ve denied people at the bar before if [they] look too drunk. I’ve told them ‘I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable serving you.’ It’s a little awkward sometimes, but I’m just trying to help them.”

Former Doorman at Bar B said his responsibility was to monitor the venue’s entrance and allow people of age into the bar.

“Most of the time, I turned people away for expired ID’s,” Doorman said. “It was a common indication of kids trying to use fakes.”

Drinking manifests common behaviors in underage offenders, according to Lieutenant Epps. He said that conduct ranges from “fighting [or] boisterous behavior to overindulgence resulting in situations requiring immediate medical attention.”

Heavy intoxication “increases the chances of a person becoming a victim of a crime,” according to Lt. Epps. Youths who drink underage are more likely to experience fighting, physical and sexual assault, unintentional injuries, and abuse of other drugs, according to the CDC.

The names of people interviewed and bars visited have been changed with their best interest in mind.


Pawnbroker ordinance amendment passed

by Chari Sutherland

It was standing-room only at the April 6 commission meeting.  Many small business owners were in attendance to protest a proposed amendment to an ordinance governing pawnbrokers. 

The amendment, proposed by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department (ACCPD), will require all pawnbrokers to begin using an electronic ticketing system, to hold items an additional 20 days before allowing them to be sold and to require customers to show picture identification before pawning items. 

 During public comments, Lori Reeves, of the Athens Pawn Shop, asked that the commission vote no on the amendment.  “This (amendment) will bring dramatic changes for the livelihood of at least a dozen small businesses,” she said.  She said the current ordinance is sufficient.  “Most of the stolen property is sold on the streets by criminals, not in pawnshops.”  Perry Reeves said many of their customers repeatedly pawn the same items just to get some extra money, then return to pick up the items. 

Though his business has required that customers show identification for forty-two years, Reeves was concerned about customers losing more confidentiality.    

The amendment was suggested in writing by Chief of Police, Joseph Lumpkin, on February 4.  In his detailed report to the commissioners, he requested that pawnbrokers “electronically report their transactions on a daily basis rather than by weekly paper document.”  The report also said Georgia law authorizes the police department to request such a change.  Lumpkin also wrote in the report that there has been an increase in burglaries in the last three years, with small electronics being the most common items stolen.  

ACCPD will be able to track items received in pawnshops from their headquarters through an internet database, rather than sending a detective out to collect copies of pawn tickets and manually looking through all of them.  In November, there were 1,549 paper pawn tickets, according to Lumpkin’s report.

On the opposite side of the issue, many pawnbrokers complained at the commission meeting that new regulations will make their work more tedious.  Thornton said being required to take a picture and write a detailed description of each piece of jewelry will require more time.   He said that official should consider that many of the dealers take in only certain types of jewelry, so there will often be over 100 individual and identical pieces of jewelry.  “A lot of things not adequately thought out,” he said. 

“I’m not thrilled about having to spend one to two more hours a day meeting new guidelines,” said Dale Duncan of Duncan’s Fine Jewelry on Atlanta Highway.   He said some dealers may have to spend about 30 minutes more on an item just to enter it into the system. 

“This will cause people who do a large portion of buying to probably do illegal things,” he said.  “They may be a day or two late entering their information or not enter it at all.”  To comply may require longer days or adding more labor, which will raise the dealer’s costs. 

All pawnbrokers were concerned about financing the new system.  Joe Thornton of Thornton’s Pawn Center on Lexington Avenue said the pawnbrokers weren’t given enough time to look over the proposed changes to the ordinance.  “You’re putting a financial burden on store owners,” he told the commission.  “The proposal doesn’t specify equipment we’d have to use.  We need more understanding of what’s being required.”

Lori Reeves said the extra $25 registration fee required each year and a $25 precious metal license for dealers that sell precious metals is “over and above what we already pay in (business license) fees.”

Though the commission did not specifically address the concerns about the extra fees or having to implement equipment/services (computer, digital camera and internet service) that some dealers may not already have, it was pointed out that ACCPD will purchase the software system for $11,000 through the police department’s general fund budget.  

Commissioner Kelly Girtz said Chief Lumpkin’s request for the amendment “is judious”.  “I think this is going to bring us in line with the state and allow us to communicate with other jurisdictions as well.” 

Girtz motioned to approve the amendment.  It was seconded and all commissioners voted in favor. 

With the passing of this ordinance amendment, ACCPD joins police departments of Alpharetta, Cartersville, Cobb County and Gwinnett County in requiring an electronic recording system.  Chief Lumpkin’s report said, “These agencies report that electronic pawn reporting has improved efficiency and enabled the agencies to recover stolen property while identifying burglary suspects on a regular basis.” 

Now approximately a month until the May 24 deadline of full implementation, Thornton’s Pawn Center isn’t yet prepared for the change.  “I haven’t started implementing any of it and I won’t until May first,” Joe Thornton said.

Today at Athens Pawn, owner Perry Reeves isn’t close to being ready.  Since he’s still using handwritten tickets, he doesn’t own a computer or have internet access.  Dale Duncan at Duncan’s Fine Jewelry said he’s logged onto the site and registered to use it.