Nearly a century after Prohibition took effect, a divided America can at least agree on one thing.
An outright ban on the sale and manufacture of alcohol caused more trouble than it solved. Today, liquor is advertised on television, and NFL games seem like an extended advertisement for beer (and pickup trucks).
But alcohol is not without danger, especially for youth. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a 2017 study, found that 30 percent of high school students drank some amount of alcohol, 14 percent engaged in binge drinking and 6 percent drove after drinking alcohol.
The CDC study links alcohol to increased school absences, failing grades, a greater risk of sexual assault and decreased interest in school activities. Some observers point to vaping and marijuana as bigger issues for teenagers, but alcohol use, while it may seem passé to the Snapchat generation, remains a risk that can’t be ignored.
The St. Joseph Police Department is trying to counter teen alcohol use with increased monitoring and testing at the city’s public high schools. Tucked inside the department’s annual Edward Byrne federal grant application is a request for $1,155 to buy portable breath-testing devices for use at all public high schools.
If the funding is approved, school resource officers will use the equipment to test students who are suspected of being on school property after drinking alcohol. Police officials emphasize that only SROs can use the equipment, although students can be referred by teachers or staff if there is a suspicion about alcohol use.
A student can be tested any time an SRO is working, but only when there’s reason to believe someone may be under the influence. There will be no random testing.
Sgt. James Langtson with the St. Joseph Police Department tells News-Press NOW that this initiative isn’t completely new, since the department already had one portable testing device. The funding from the grant, often used for law enforcement equipment purchases, will allow this alcohol enforcement effort to be more evenly applied.
It’s telling that the biggest chunk of the police grant application identifies school safety needs. The department also is seeking a speed display sign that’s intended to allow for improved traffic enforcement outside schools.
When voters approved a school levy increase last spring, much of the discussion centered on filling budget gaps and providing pay and resources for teachers. But part of it went to beefing up security and the SRO presence in high schools and middle schools.
The police grant request shows this wasn’t just idle election talk. Officers are taking school safety and security issues seriously.