Renewing efforts to design and pass an ordinance to curb underage drinking in town, local officials and members of the Princeton community have formed a committee to discuss a possible ordinance that would fine minors under the age of 21 caught drinking inside a private residence.
The committee, which has met twice so far, consists of representatives from the Princeton Police Department, Princeton High School, parents, Princeton Board of Health, various drug and alcohol prevention organizations, including Corner House and the Princeton Alcohol and Drug Alliance, and the University. Councilman Lance Liverman and Corner House Executive Director Gary De Blasio chair the committee.
The University will be represented by General Counsel Peter McDonough, Interclub Council Adviser Mark Bur ’08 and ICC president and Cannon Club president Connor Clegg ’14.
A similar ordinance was proposed in 2000 but failed to pass due to civil liberties concerns, particularly about police entering private residences. However, efforts to establish an ordinance to curb underage drinking were revived after Princeton Borough and Township were consolidated in January.
“When we consolidated, we asked various council members to put down issues that prioritized things that we would like to see done in the new government,” Liverman said. “On that list was looking at the underage drinking ordinance again.”
Liverman distinguished this prospective ordinance from the 2000 version, which he said he had personally opposed. According to Liverman, the 2000 version was voted on without the possibility of amendments, whereas the current proposal can be amended and include more clauses, including a Good Samaritan clause that would protect people who assist intoxicated youth.
“It was not something [the municipality] had to adopt or reject wholesale but rather can tailor more to the community, which is why I think it’s important for the committee to be happening,” Bur noted.
In addition, Liverman clarified the purpose of the new ordinance.
“This isn’t about penalizing; this isn’t about just writing fines; this is about the safety and the health concerns of the young person,” Liverman said. “It’s not about giving the police more power; it’s not about losing our civil liberties.”
In aninterview earlier this year with The Times of Trenton, Princeton Police Captain Nick Sutter also clarified that police could not enter a private residence solely based on reports of underage drinking. Instead, Sutter said they would only able to enter based on other reasons, such as drug violations or noise complaints.
The MercerCouncil on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, of which Liverman is a board member, and the Princeton Alcohol and Drug Alliance support an ordinance, according to Liverman. He added, “This is something that has been asked of the town for the last few years— to adopt an ordinance because we don’t have one.”
Princeton is one of only two municipalities in Mercer County without such an ordinance, according to Liverman. Therefore, the committee, while still in its infancy, has been gathering information on existing ordinances in other townships and their efficacy in limiting underage drinking and assisting youth. In particular, Liverman said that he looked into Hopewell Borough’s model, which states that a person under 21 caught drinking inside a private residence would be fined $250 for a first offense and $350 for a second offense.
However, Liverman noted that the University’s presence differentiates Princeton from the other municipalities. “A lot of these communities, they don’t have eating clubs,” Liverman said.
Liverman said he is aware of the complications that the eating clubs present. “I know that if you enact an ordinance that will have a negative impact, you send kids underground, and being underground means doing things out of sight, which would be worse,” Liverman added. “We’re very cognizant and very concerned about the eating clubs if we did enact an ordinance like this. We will try to find language that will be beneficial and fair to everyone.”
Meanwhile, Liverman acknowledged that the University has improved the handling and monitoring of policies toward underage drinking at the eating clubs since 2000. “The eating clubs have cleaned up their act a lot,” Liverman explained. “I didn’t want to do a reform that would hinder that progress or in any way change the direction that the eating clubs have been going.” Liverman credited these improvements partially to more active University monitoring.
“I think it’s nice that we’re included in this, and I think we’ll approach this process with the interest of all the clubs in mind and to keep the Street as safe as we can,” Clegg said.
The committee developing this ordinance will continue to meet in the future and is looking into holding community forums to receive input from Princeton residents, according to Liverman.