Police unleash new tactics against underage drinking

Undercover party-goers and portable breath tests support an increased neighborhood police presence.

Britt Johnsen

Even if it means undercover detectives and overtime hours, Minneapolis and University police said they will do what it takes to enforce the law.

Following last year’s riots, parties and underage drinking, the two departments are infiltrating parties, giving portable breath tests and increasing manpower – all to keep the campus safe, Minneapolis police Lt. Jeff Rugel said.

“Sometimes drinking gets out of hand, and soon, you know, there’s a couch burning in the street,” Rugel said.

During the first two weekends of school, Rugel said Operation NightCAP – Nighttime Concentrated Alcohol Patrol – issued 224 underage drinking citations, seized 56 kegs and produced 12 citations for serving to minors or selling alcohol without a license.

“I think (Operation NightCAP) has been wildly successful,” Rugel said.

One new police tactic is using undercover party-goers. At suspicious parties, police send in an underage person – usually a student worker or volunteer – to try to buy alcohol or a cup for alcohol.

If the person is successful, police issue a citation for both serving to minors and selling alcohol without a license, which can cost the offender up to $3,000 and one year in jail.

Another new device is the portable breath test. Police can have those suspected of underage drinking blow into the device for a digital reading of their blood alcohol level. Those under 21 who test positive are ticketed, Rugel said, which costs the offender $130.

First-year student Mike Janicki said such enforcement is unfair.

“We’re students, and we can’t really afford these drinking tickets,” Janicki said. “If they’re going to keep busting us, it’s going to be hard to make ends meet.”

In addition to new ideas and technology, police feel it is important to have more officers on patrol.

Previously, one police car per weekend patrolled parties. Now, about 12 cars from the State Patrol, University and Minneapolis police will be out every weekend specifically for parties.

“We’re working together with multiple agencies,” University police Capt. Steve Johnson said. “(We are) coordinating our efforts to address the problem of underage consumption and parties.”

Some students said these maneuvers will not make much difference.

“It’s not going to make me not drink and not go to parties,” first-year student Sarah Ihrcke said.

Others said laws are important and enforcement is essential.

“I don’t mind (increased) enforcement,” third-year student Mitch Hornwyffels said. “If it’s the law, they should enforce it in any way necessary.”

Regardless of student reaction, police said they must be ready for action at any time and said they will continue to formulate new strategies to combat crime.

“We will always be enforcing underage drinking,” Johnson said.

Increased enforcement is always costly, but Rugel said Minneapolis and University police anticipated that when they made their budgets.

“This requires a lot of people and a lot of overtime,” Rugel said. “(But) if problems are occurring, somebody needs to be there.”

State grants, funds from various areas of the departments and Operation NightCAP money covers costs, officials said.