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Opinion

UWRF officer addresses underage drinking issue, cautions students

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October 28, 2010

I am going to assume that every student on campus here at UW-River Falls is aware that the legal drinking age in Wisconsin is 21. It was raised from 19 to 21 in 1986, which means a number of students were not born yet. Even though the majority of us cannot remember when the drinking age was under 21, we still have a high number of underage drinking incidents at UWRF. I do not assume that every student on campus drinks, but our University Police Department would be naïve if we believed it is not an issue. In fact, you probably know someone who has received a ticket. A first offense citation costs $263.50 and the fines only increase with each subsequent one after. If you were to get four underage citations in one year, your fines (total) would amount to $1,936.

As officers, we understand that the students are finally on your own. If you are underage and found drinking or intoxicated, you will be cited. As officers, we are not on a mission to “bust” as many underage drinkers as we can but it is part of the job.  If you are breaking the law, you should not be surprised when you are caught.

After issuing a number of citations already this year, you should know a few things as students and residents at UWRF. The first is the only way to guarantee you will not receive a citation is to abstain from underage drinking. If you are unwilling to choose that option, understand that you are at risk of being caught.

Sometimes after a student is caught drinking underage, the first thing he or she states is “I don’t have an ID.” If you are in the dorms and that happens, we are automatically called. Hall staff needs to know who is in the room during these incidents. If you decide to lie about your identity, especially to police officers, not only are you guilty of the infraction we are called for, you are also guilty of obstruction. An obstruction charge (UWS 18.10[7]) stays with you. It does not look good when you are applying for jobs and you have an obstruction charge in your criminal history. When issuing a citation, I have been asked not to tell the parents of the person cited. Sorry to break it to you, but the majority of students on campus are legal adults. The only time we contact parents are if the person cited is 16-years-old or under.  You have the responsibility of telling your parents; we do not.

I do not feel it necessary to quote statistics about the dangers of drinking; we have all heard and seen them. What I do want you to take from this column is that a couple of beers in a friend’s room are not as appealing with a $263.50 fee attached. A number of tickets I have issued have had a preliminary breath test result of under .05, which means you can get a ticket for having “just a couple.” I do not advise against fun. Please enjoy this time in your life to the fullest. Know, though, that if you choose to take part in underage drinking, as an adult, you are responsible for any repercussions that come with that act.

Patricia Forsberg has been a law enforcement officer for three years and an officer with UW-River Falls for a little over a year. She is also a student at UWRF, majoring in sociology with a criminal justice minor.