For the past decade, Athens-Clarke County’s policy for minors who are caught drinking has been “do not pass ‘Go,’ do not collect $200, go straight to jail.” The reasoning was that booking minors-in-possession into jail would be more of a deterrent than handing them a ticket. As it turns out, nothing is going to deter a 19-year-old in search of a good time. (It sure as hell wouldn’t have deterred me back in college.)
ACCPD quietly changed its policy over the summer so that underage drinkers will merely be cited, rather than cuffed and loaded up in the paddy wagon. Ten years ago, a misdemeanor such as this could have been expunged and forgotten and never come up in a job interview. But today, with mugshot websites all over the Internet—and a local daily newspaper that posts them online even though they lack any journalistic value—even minor offenses can live on forever.
But plenty of students can still count on a trip to the hoosegow if they act up while they’re out downtown. Generally speaking, police only have a reason to check your ID if you’re doing something else wrong—fighting, for example, or urinating in the street, or fighting a police officer while urinating on his shoes (which does happen). That will still get you arrested.
“In looking at some of the citation statistics, a lot of those [underage drinking] arrests come with other types of behavior—public drunk, disorderly conduct,” ACC Police Chief Scott Freeman told Flagpole.
“Sometimes people are so intoxicated, the best thing for them is to be under supervision in the custody of law enforcement,” Freeman said. “If it’s merely a case of underage drinking, I have absolutely no problem with officers citing and releasing, as long as the individual is not intoxicated to the point of being unsafe unsupervised. If they’re obviously intoxicated… we turn them over to a responsible person who’s not been drinking. The last thing I want them to be is in danger.”
UGA officials would not comment on the policy change.
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