D.C. Police Say Courts Hamper Alcohol Enforcement

Police officials in the District of Columbia said recent court rulings have made it nearly impossible to enforce the city’s law banning underage drinking, the Washington Post reported June 17.

According to Lt. Patrick Burke, the police department’s traffic-safety coordinator, a May 25 court injunction only allows police officers to issue civil citations to minors who possess or drink alcohol. The minor punishment, he said, essentially gives youth a free pass to purchase and drink alcohol.

“If I was a young person in Maryland or Virginia, I’d be here in D.C. trying to get a drink right now, because there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Burke before a council hearing on strengthening the city’s law. “We can’t enforce the law right now, so there is a free ride in the city.”

The bill under consideration by the D.C. City Council would amend the underage drinking law by allowing criminal and civil penalties. “This is a very serious problem,” said council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), a co-sponsor of the bill. “We want to make sure we have strong deterrence.”

However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of the National Capital Area is against the measure, arguing that there is no justification for criminalizing the possession of alcoholic beverages by people younger than 21.

ACLU attorney Arthur Spitzer said fingerprinting, arresting, and giving a minor an arrest record is too stiff a penalty.

But Burke countered, “I’d rather see a young person crying in handcuffs rather than a young person crying at the scene of a crash because their friend is dead. I’m sick of it. We see too many young people killed.”