Amherst Police continue to fight underage drinking with extra funding

By Marleigh Felsenstein

(Collegian file photo)
(Collegian file photo)

The Amherst Police Department has received a $10,000 grant in order to help officers work overtime to be able to enforce underage alcohol laws. The grant was awarded through the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security under the Highway Safety Division.

With this grant, extra officers can focus on limiting alcohol use by minors in public and at parties, according to Captain Jennifer Gundersen of the APD.

It will also provide funding for different programs, which include compliance checks, reverse stings, party patrols, surveillance and “Cops in Shops.”

The officers that will be working overtime will be either uniformed or dressed in civilian clothing, and will sign up for different time slots to work overtime in order to make this grant work.

The APD is to report to the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security with their statistics every month in order to maintain this grant, which the APD has received for the past 10 years, and has been renewed every year so far. This year’s grant started on Oct. 1, and will last until Sept. 30, 2015.

Gundersen said the grant is competitive, and in order to receive the money, a department needs to show previous experience in enforcement efforts.

The grant provides more funding and personnel flexibility to the department because officer pay is not pulled from the general budget.

“More cops and more lights. We rely on this grant to fund having enough officers during critical times,” Gundersen said.

Underage alcohol enforcement efforts usually occur on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. There are exceptions, and in these cases, such as Homecoming, extra officers will work overtime on weekday nights too.

“We can certainly be more proactive,” Gundersen said.

Once a person under the age of 21 has been caught drinking on the street or has been caught at a party, the police have a few punitive options.

Police can arrest that person and take them into custody, or they can summons them and send a referral to the Dean of Students at their college or university, and let administrators deal with the consequences of underage student drinking.

“This year, our officers are choosing to summons versus taking people into custody. We recognize that when we make physical custodies, it is time consuming and summons are just as effective,” Gundersen said, and added “UMass students get referred to the Dean’s Office, which is just as effective as going to court.”

In addition to enforcing the laws, the police will also provide a learning opportunity to the citizens of Amherst. They will be “educating citizens on the Town Bylaw prohibiting open containers of alcohol on public property, keg permits and Operating Under the Influence,” written in a press release about the grant.

“(This grant) is an effective tool. (We take) any grant funding that is offered that can provide additional staffing,” Gundersen said.

Gundersen also said the APD will be receiving other grants, including one for domestic violence and another for pedestrian and bicycle safety.

“(Our officers) go beyond their tour of duty (in order to work with this grant). (We) are committed to promoting the safety of persons under 21,” Gundersen said.

Marleigh Felsenstein can be reached at [email protected]