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Borough weighs tougher underage drinking penalties

Princeton Borough Police Chief Thomas Michaud said yesterday he will likely recommend the Borough Council pass an ordinance giving police the power to enter eating clubs and issue court summonses to underage drinkers.

Local authorities began considering the ordinance after Gov. Christie Whitman signed a state law June 28 allowing municipalities to adopt measures that would permit police to cite underage drinkers on private property.


Violators would face a $200 fine for the first offense, a $350 fine for a second offense and possibly additional penalties such as driver's license suspension and mandatory community service.

The state law was passed primarily to curb underage drinking in towns along the Jersey shore, but Michaud said it could have applications in Princeton. "College towns as well as resort shore towns may find it's something to consider," he said.

The state law has already prompted Avalon and Surf City to adopt local ordinances.

After Whitman signed the law, Mercer County Prosecutor Daniel Giaquinto wrote a letter to all police chiefs in the county urging them to consider recommending such an ordinance to their local government officials, according to Michaud.

"I'm definitely in favor of it," Giaquinto said in an interview last week. "It gives police an extra tool to combat the out-of-control keg parties that can affect the Borough."

The Borough's public safety committee began discussing the potential ordinance at its Sept. 8 meeting and will continue to consider it at its next meeting Oct. 13.


Borough Council member David Goldfarb, who lives on Charlton Street near Prospect Avenue and has complained about noise from the clubs in the past, said he and other council members would likely support such an ordinance.

But Borough Council president Roger Martindell said budgetary considerations and limited police resources could delay a final vote. "To enforce it, we'd be expanding the jurisdiction of our police force," he said.

Even under the possible law, police would be able to charge underage drinkers on private property only if officers were there for another official reason, such as responding to noise complaints or fire alarms, according to Borough Police Capt. Charles Davall.

But state senator Anthony Bucco (R-Morris), who sponsored the state legislation, said in an interview yesterday the new law allows police to enter private property even if they only suspect underage drinking on the premises.

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Present alcohol-related laws empower police to charge minors only if they are drinking alcohol on public property.

Cottage Club President Chris Wolff '01 said the possible ordinance has dominated recent Inter-Club Council meetings, but the eating club presidents have yet to decide on an official response.

"We want to run safe places, and we don't want to be breaking the law," he said.

Other presidents said they were less concerned about the issue.

Right now the University community is just "waiting and seeing what happens," ICC advisor Mary Alice Beha '00 said about possible opposition.

"It won't affect the importance of the 'Street' to social life in Princeton," Beha said. "People go to the 'Street' for lots of other reasons."