The Williamstown Police Department (WPD) issued warnings to at least four Williams students for possession of alcohol last Thursday evening. In two separate incidents, the WPD cited a student for being underage while in the back seat of a vehicle carrying alcohol.
Throughout Thursday evening, Raymond Redfern, a representative from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC), and a WPD officer requested identification and issued warnings to students waiting in cars outside the Spirit Shoppe, located on Cole Avenue close to the College. The WPD issued no criminal charges, but required that the students’ parents contact the police department to be informed of the incident.
One student who was issued a warning on Thursday expressed shock when he learned of the law. “As a friend of mine was putting beer into the car, an officer knocked on my window and asked for an ID,” said Chris Abbott ’03. “He explained that by being in the vehicle, even in the back seat, I was considered a minor in possession of alcohol. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”
Under Massachusetts law, any minor driving a vehicle containing alcohol is considered in possession and can be fined, have his or her license suspended for up to six months or face possible arrest. However, an officer may use his or her discretion to determine whether a minor in any vehicle containing alcohol is in possession, whether driving or not.
While enforcement of this law has not been frequent in the past, the WPD plans to increase its patrols in and around liquor stores and licensed premises. The representative from the ABCC is in Williamstown at the request of the WPD as they hope to increase enforcement of underage drinking laws. “We would rather get compliance through education,” said WPD Chief Arthur Parker. “But the police department has an obligation to enforce the law. We continually run into underage drinking and people’s health is compromised by the copious consumption of alcohol.”
Parker hopes that contacting the parents of the students will be a more effective way of dealing with the violations.
“Students come to Williams to get an education, not a police record. We hope that parents will have a greater influence on students than the typical court fines for these kinds of offenses.”
Some students are outraged at the ability of officers to use their discretion to determine whether minors are in possession of alcohol. Allen Coker ’03 said he was getting a ride across campus when a friend wanted to stop by the Spirit Shop. As the driver put the alcohol in the car, a WPD officer asked for Coker’s ID and then issued him a warning him for possession of alcohol.
“I spent a long time trying to convince Mr. Redfern that I was only getting a ride,” said Coker. “I couldn’t get him to believe me. He just kept saying, ?don’t play stupid with me.’”
As of Sunday, Security had not been informed of the incidents, though according to Dave Boyer, assistant director of Security, the WPD has issued numerous criminal charges for this type of violation in the past. Security does not plan on taking any direct action, except to continue informing students about state liquor laws through the Training for Intervention Procedures certification process, the TIPS forum for first year students, the sanction process and entry talks.