COLUMBIA — You think you're doing that freshman standing in the liquor store parking lot a favor if you agree to go inside and buy him a fifth of Wild Turkey?
With some extra grant funding from the Youth Community Coalition, Columbia police are about to get even more intolerant of that form of courtesy.
The $14,000 grant will be used to train cops to do more "shoulder taps," also known as the "Hey, Mister" approach that underage drinkers have used for years to get strangers to buy them alcohol. The grant will be used to pay the people recruited to play the part of minors wanting booze, pay police overtime and purchase equipment to do more compliance checks and party patrols.
"We're not trying to vilify alcohol by any means, but we're saying, let's go off what we know," Youth Community Coalition Coordinator Ryan Worley said.
Every piece of research into brain development or physical development of teens shows that alcohol impairs healthy development, he said.
When going out and drinking in bars, underage college students are especially vulnerable, Columbia Police Sgt. Candy Cornman said.
"Generally, because they are either away from home for the first time or only among friends similar in age, there's not someone there making sure they don't overindulge," she said.
After drinking excessively, minors are often unable to control their reduced inhibitions, leading to fights and people getting isolated in dangerous situations, she said.
"They are lonely, they are impaired, and they are easier to be victimized."
Worley and Cornman also listed health issues such as depression and alcohol-dependency, as well as assaults, traffic-related accidents, domestic violence, disturbances, public nuisances and littering among the problems associated with underage consumption of alcohol.
Local bar managers support the extra funding and say Columbia police are fairly effective at combating underage drinking.
"They're pretty much in tune with where the problems are," BBCII owner David Maxwell said. "Personally, I feel pretty good about how they are doing right now."
Fieldhouse manager Marshall Janish and Shiloh's manager Andy Burkemper also credited the police. Janish said that just having a police presence outside bars helps keep minors out.
Columbia police also use compliance checks to test which businesses sell alcohol to underage people, which can result in a business losing its liquor or business license.
In 2008, only 50 percent of businesses in Columbia passed compliance checks, Worley said. Today, nearly 80 percent of businesses refuse alcohol service to minors when tested in a compliance check.
Party patrols are also being funded by the grant. That's where police enter a place where a party is going on and where underage people may be drinking alcohol. Cornman said hosts of these parties need to know that they, in addition to the minors themselves, are responsible for the crime.