Police dealing with underage drinking | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Police dealing with underage drinking

They see it a lot. Sometimes it involves very young children like an 11-year-old girl who shoplifted a bottle of Jagermeister because she is an alcoholic or a 12-year-old boy who got a DUI riding a bike. Or it could be a raucous gathering at Party Rock, a spot in South Lake Tahoe infamous for teen-age drinking.

Police know under-age drinking creates problems at South Lake Tahoe. They are cracking down on the issue with a zero-tolerance attitude and a planned undercover sting operation in coming months. Already 140 fliers went out to stores that sell alcohol. The fliers tell owners a sting is on the way.

“We want to slow down alcohol consumption by juveniles, in effect reducing parties, fights, accidents and calls for service,” said South Lake Tahoe Police Officer Martin Hewlett. “We’re looking to the public. We want to empower the community and have community and police solving the problem together.”

Officers say at least 90 percent of the calls they go out on during the summer are alcohol-related. To reduce the problem they are asking the public to help curb under-age alcohol consumption by reporting all violations.

The police say they have a zero-tolerance policy, which means any minor caught with alcohol will get a ticket or anyone one who throws a party for minors will get a ticket. An alcohol violation is punishable by suspension of a driver’s license, or can cause a minor to be denied a license and to receive a possible fine or jail time, police said.

As part of the sting, officers said they will cite any business caught selling wine, liquor or beer to people under 21. For owners, that can mean a heavy fine or, if they have a history of violations, loss of their license to sell alcohol.

Hewlett has partnered with Officer Brodie Seagrave, a newcomer to the police department, in targeting juvenile drinking at Party Rock and other locations.

Their work is part of a COPS project, Citizens’ Option for Public Safety. At its core, the program relies on community participation in law enforcement. The South Lake Tahoe Police Department instituted COPS about 18 months ago.

“It’s not unusual for the public to think law enforcement is just to respond to calls for public service,” said Officer Chuck Owens, a spokesman for the department. “The new attitude allows for officers to work with the community to identify problems.”

Police have broken South Lake Tahoe into six communities: Al Tahoe, Bijou, Stateline, Ski Run, Sierra, Tahoe Keys and Tahoe Valley (area past the “Y”). Four to five officers are assigned to each area, Owens said.

Besides under-age drinking, police have identified illegal camping, speeding and school truancy as COPS problems.

Anyone who has identified a problem in their community is asked to contact police at (530) 542-6100.

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