Near 1 a.m. on Feb. 26, two Williams first-years were arrested for possession of alcohol underage at Mezze Restaurant on Water Street.
The arrests have prompted the Williamstown Police Department (WPD) to seek state funding for more aggressive enforcement of underage drinking laws.
Police were summoned to Mezze by an anonymous 911 call from the restaurant reporting underage drinking.
When the two officers on duty arrived at the scene, they stopped two students with drinks in their hands and asked them for identification. Neither student showed proof of legal age, so the officers took them outside, handcuffed them and transported them to the police station, according to student witnesses.
At the police station, the students were processed and released on bail “almost immediately,” said Williamstown Interim Chief of Police Arthur Parker.
The students are currently awaiting trial.
According to Assistant Director of Security Dave Boyer, both students will face disciplinary proceedings in the Dean’ Office as well.
Parker said he forwarded a synopsis of the events to the local liquor licensing authority, which may sanction Mezze.
He expects the North Adams court to summon the Mezze bartender responsible for serving the students.
Mezze owner Nancy Thomas said she will not punish the bartender.
“I have a great relationship with my bartenders and I trust them totally, and I know he would not intentionally serve minors. I back up my co-workers,” she said.
In light of the incident, last week Parker submitted an application to the Massachusetts State Police Departments Cops in Shops program.
Under Cops in Shops, the State Police Department would give the WPD extra money to target underage drinking in all local establishments with liquor licenses.
Parker said that the WPD will find out if their application has been approved by March 31, and if it is, funding will begin April 1 and last until Sept. 15.
Parker said that the police department will use the money for education and enforcement. First, it will advertise the increased police presence over the radio and in the local papers.
“A lot of compliance is gained with the fear of being caught,” Parker said.
Second, beginning April 1, the police will increase its coverage of Williamstown’s bars, package stores and restaurants. “And that’s going to be with or without the funding,” promised Parker.
Director of Security Jean Thorndike said that campus security will help the police implement the Cops in Shops program.
However, local restaurants with liquor licenses said that they already comply with the underage drinking laws.
Thomas, the owner of Mezze, said that her employees always card people at the door or at the bar. She said that she welcomes underage students for music, dancing and socializing, but she is not willing to risk her liquor license serving alcohol to minors.
The maitre d’ at Hobson’s Choice, Philip Cantelon, and the co-owner of Wild Amber Grill, Sandy Smith, both said that they wished they could serve alcohol to underage students dining with their parents, but they are restrained from doing so by the law.
Smith said his bartenders card at the door or at the bar of Wild Amber’s side bar, but since 90 percent of his customers are regulars, he personally targets young people and people who he doesn’t know.
Trevor Babb ’00, a side bar regular, said that he does not think underage drinking is a problem at the side bar. “The hot spots for underage drinking are really the Pub and Canterbury’s,” Babb said.
A sophomore who preferred to remain anonymous agreed. “No, I’m not usually allowed to drink in restaurants in Williamstown being under 21, even at Mezze,” he said.
However, one senior, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that she was served alcohol at Mezze, Hobson’s and Wild Amber before she turned 21.
“They never [asked for identification] when I ordered wine at Hobson’s,” she added.
A freshman echoed her sentiments. “I always got the impression from the people who I knew who went to Mezze and from my own experience there that it wasn’t too hard to drink. It was the one place in Williamstown, besides the college social scene, where students could drink easily,” he said.
If the WPD succeeds in bringing the Cops in Shops program to Williamstown, that could all be about to change.