Task force to examine possible ordinance banning underage drinking on private property
The local Princeton Alcohol and Drug Alliance announced at a meeting Thursday that it will form a task force to review a proposed ordinance that would prohibit underage drinking on private property. If passed, the ordinance would give police officers the ability to issue a summons punishable by a fine to minors under the age of 21 who consume alcohol on private property.
The ordinance, which is based on an earlier version originally considered in 2000, was identified as one of the new year's priorities at the council's goal-setting meeting last month.
The task force will include, among other local residents, Interclub Council Adviser Mark Bur '08, the incoming ICC president and a representative from the University administration.
The current state statute on underage drinking is not enforceable on private property, but otherwise prohibits the possession or consumption of alcohol by minors in public places, Princeton Police Captain Nicholas Sutter explained.
But the ordinance, if passed, would not allow officers to simply enter private residences where they suspect underage drinking may be occurring.
"We can't just barge into a house," Sutter explained. "We couldn't just walk into private property for no reason looking for violations."
Rather, the ordinance would only be enforceable when officers discover minors in possession of alcohol after lawfully entering a private residence, Sutter explained.
PADA Executive Director Gary De Blasio added at the Thursday meeting that he would welcome the participation of additional University students on the task force. The task force will decide whether to recommend the ordinance to the town council.
The University intends to name its representative to the task force position in the next several days, according to University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua.
"If we're in a place for a legal reason or investigation and we see a violation, we would be able to enforce it," Sutter explained.
For example, if officers lawfully enter a private residence in response to a reported complaint and then discovered minors in possession of alcohol in the process, they would then be able to issue criminal summons to those in violation of the ordinance.
"It's an enforcement arm, if you will, for underage drinking on private property," Sutter said.
Under the proposed ordinance, a neighbor's call could also report the occurrence of underage drinking within a nearby private residence.
"[In this case,] the police have the right to enter the property and see whether any minors are involved in the drinking party," Mercer Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Executive Director Geetha Arulmohan explained. "It is not infringement on the privacy or freedom of parents, but is safeguarding the community."
Standard penalties for these ordinances in other towns consist of fines of $250 for the first offense, according to sample ordinance language provided by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Alliance - New Jersey. Repeat offenders may face fines of $350 or a six-month suspension of their driving privileges.
While the language of the proposed ordinance has not yet been drafted, Sutter also noted that these types of ordinances often allowed charges only against those between the ages of 18 and 20. The ordinance would make exceptions for minors consuming alcohol as part of a religious ritual or with permission of a parent or guardian at a family event.
Similar ordinances were proposed in 2000 in the former Borough and Township, but were ultimately dismissed due to a lack of popular support and public suspicion of allowing the police excessive rights regarding actions carried out in private residences.
"The community was overwhelmingly basically against it [in 2000], and we kind of shelved the idea," Councilman Lance Liverman explained. "During that time period, other communities around us were able to adopt an ordinance such as this."
Liverman was charged with driving under the influence and refusal to take a breathalyzer testlast year. He told The Times of Trenton that he was merely falling asleep behind the wheel.
"What happened was I refused a breathalyzer," Liverman said. "I had no clue, but when you refuse, you get double charges, the refusal and then the DUI."
He said that he has served on PADA for about 10 years, and that his DUI charge does not influence his position on alcohol ordinances in any way.
Outgoing ICC president Alec Egan '13 said that he was pleased to learn that his successor would have a role on the task force and would be expected to enter a productive dialogue with the task force about the issue.
"We just definitely need to talk about it and figure out what the issues are with the current system," Egan said. "Honestly, they just want to keep everybody safe. That's their ultimate goal. And I totally agree with that. And I think it's just all going to be all about talking it through and figuring out what's going to make the safest possible Street where we can still have fun and still have a great social life on campus."
Egan is also president of Cap & Gown Club.
Liverman said that there were no recent significant incidents that motivated interest in the ordinance. Rather, he said, underage drinking had been discussed widely among community members recently, and that the nearby town of Hamilton had just adopted a similar ordinance last year.
The NCADD-NJ cites the rate of accidents caused by minors driving under the influence of alcohol as one of the main reasons for a public need for such a law.
"If you look at the statistics, underage drinking is the major cause for automobile crashes and crime rate in any township," Arulmohan said. "Ordinances are the only thing that will give them some kind of fear."