TERRE HAUTE —
Binge drinking seems to be on the rise among Indiana’s young people, according to an annual report issued last week by the Indiana State Excise Police.
The Intensified College Enforcement initiative, or ICE, launched last year to reduce underage drinking had some success in reducing alcohol-related vehicle crashes among underage drunk drivers in six counties with college campuses. Vigo County and Indiana State University is included in the ICE efforts.
The report shows that police are still concerned about the number of high alcohol-concentration levels that officers come across during their enforcement efforts. Still, police have also been encouraged by the increased reporting of binge drinking leading to alcohol-related medical problems.
“We don’t have specific information on why young people are binge drinking, but I think we are also seeing more reporting of it. And that may be due to a change in the law to grant individual immunity for reporting it,” said Excise Sgt. Bill Turner about the ICE program. “The overall goal is to keep people safe and to make sure the public stays safe. ”
Indiana State University showed a 78 percent decline in alcohol-related crashes involving 15- to 20-year-old drunk drivers, according to the report. In 2011, Vigo County had 14 crashes reported. But in 2012, only three crashes were reported in the same age group.
The other five campuses monitored by ICE — Ball State, Butler, Notre Dame, Purdue and Indiana universities — also saw dramatic declines in alcohol-related crashes among that age group. The total of crashes was 101 in both 2010 and 2011. It fell to 44 for all ICE counties in 2012.
But the number of high blood-alcohol content levels is an area of continuing concern.
In 2011, excise officers arrested 614 people with BACs of .08 percent or higher. In 2012, they arrested 773 people with BACs of .08 percent or higher, and 23 people with BACs of .25 percent or higher.
In October 2012, excise officers arrested 37 people on 53 charges on and around the ISU campus. Among those arrested were 29 minors —including three 17-year-olds —for illegal consumption or possession of alcohol. One 20-year-old woman, who had difficulty speaking and forming coherent sentences, had a .205 percent BAC. Another 20-year-old woman who was seen having difficulty walking had a .235 percent BAC.
Turner said that staff and organizations at Indiana State have taken positive steps in recent years to educate students about alcohol abuse, especially during the homecoming weekend. That has become particularly apparent during a non-ISU-sanctioned event called The Walk, when students make stops at bars and taverns along Wabash Avenue from the downtown area to the football stadium about 30 blocks away.
“I feel confident that due to aggressive enforcement and the responsibility and liability issues undertaken by the businesses, the problems on The Walk have been reduced,” Turner said. “It had gotten to be a public safety issue, with drunken people staggering into traffic. It was not so much underage drinking as it was just an unbelievable spike in bad drinking behavior.”
Another ongoing enforcement effort in Vigo County has occurred in recent years around the time of a popular diesel-engine event at the Vigo County Fairgrounds.
For some reason, Turner said, groups of individuals congregate in parking lots away from the fairgrounds, and multiple alcohol-related problems have occurred. In 2012, excise police issued 178 tickets to people in a parking lot on South Third Street. Of those, 83 individuals were arrested for the offenses of illegal possession or consumption of alcohol.
“We took several people to jail for intoxication,” Turner said. “We cited a 16-year-old boy from Canada who was drinking with his father. We cited a 17-year-old girl for dancing topless on a bus.”
Vigo County as a whole in 2012 had 435 arrest citations issued by excise police, along with 62 warnings issues. Another 37 administrative violations and 30 administrative warnings were issued to businesses with licenses, such as bars who admitted minors, or businesses with gaming violations.
That adds up to 564 total criminal and administrative citations issued by excise police for the year in Vigo County.
Vigo County is located in excise District 5, a 20-county area that includes west central Indiana from Evansville north to Parke and Vermillion counties.
Turner said excise police also enforced the state’s alcohol and gaming laws in the smaller counties in the district. The Evansville area of the district also has officers on routine patrols.
There are currently more than 10,000 active alcoholic beverage business permit locations in the state, and 1,798 of those are in the 20 counties of District 5, which includes the Wabash Valley.
The Indiana State Excise Police mission has an emphasis on enforcing Indiana’s alcohol and tobacco laws. The agency does that in part by promoting crime prevention, educating the alcohol and tobacco industries, educating youth on the adverse effects of alcohol and tobacco, and developing community involvement to prevent the sale of alcohol and tobacco to minors.
Excise officers possess full police powers to enforce any state law, including Indiana traffic laws. But the agency’s primary focus is on alcohol and tobacco laws and certain statutes on gaming in licensed premises.
Officers conduct investigations on their own initiative, and they are routinely assigned complaints received from the public about illegal activities.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.