Grant targets underage drinkers

WESTFIELD – Members of the city’s community policing unit got a boost in their ongoing struggle to control underage drinking in the Whip City when the Westfield department was selected as one of 76 police departments across the Commonwealth to share $532,000 in grant money.
Westfield’s slice of the pie provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Department of Justice was $9,980.64, an amount determined by the size of the community and distributed by the highway safety division of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.
Westfield Police Capt. Michael McCabe said that the grant “provides much needed funding to target the problem of underage drinking” and said “whether you are underage, plan to sell to a minor, or buy alcohol for a minor” the grant funding will help the city police “diligently enforce the law.”
Much of the underage alcohol enforcement is done by the community policing officers under the command of Sgt. Eric Hall who said that his unit will use the grant funds to expand on enforcement patrols in the downtown area and for stings and compliance checks in local bars, restaurants and stores.
Hall explained that at least some of the city’s community policing officers are at work patrolling the downtown area every Thursday and Friday (and Saturday when possible) evening, when Westfield State University is in session, to enforce liquor laws and said they regularly encounter students abroad with liquor in their possession.
“The first weekend they were back (from semester break) we had 16 calls” he said but said that the grant money will mostly be used for other purposes.
He said that the extra funds will allow for the extra officers needed to conduct a sting operation which, he said, needs many officers. He explained that, to be effective, the sting teams need to make nearly simultaneous checks at liquor establishments to ensure that employees of the first establishments checked do not have time to call around and warn their friends at other establishments.
He said that the other area the grant funds will be used is to fund “reverse sting” operations in which officers set up in the parking lot of a liquor establishment and check young customers when they carry their purchases back to their vehicles which are often occupied by friends who may be younger that the designated alcohol purchaser.
McCabe warns that the police, with help from the grant funds, Westfield State University and the city’s License Commission, will “crack down on both the minors who seek to circumvent the law and those people and businesses which enable them.”
“Parents and students need to know that hosting a party where alcohol is served to minors is both illegal and extremely dangerous for the minors and others in the community,” he said and points out that adults who supply alcohol to persons younger than 21 face legal liabilities.
He provides information to suggest that the on-going effort to keep alcohol out of underage hands seems to be making progress.
He reports that, in Massachusetts, violations recorded for underage drinking decreased 41.5 percent between 2007 and 2011 and, between 2006 and 2010, arrests of drivers younger than 18 year-of age for operating under the influence of liquor fell 45.4.
“Underage drinking is not a game” he said. “It’s deadly serious.”

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