Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Police, troopers to step up alcohol enforcement


September 8, 2011

Haines lawmen say they’ll be taking a more aggressive approach to underage drinking as a result of a meeting last week where residents said the town’s not tough enough on underage drinkers.

State trooper Josh Bentz said he expects to be issuing more tickets for minor consuming.

"A public request for more tickets and less warnings was evident at the town hall meeting," said Bentz, who has served five years as the law outside the Haines townsite. "Basically, I’ll be writing tickets instead of giving warnings."

Sometimes when he comes across underage drinking parties, he confiscates booze and gives rides home to youth offenders, Bentz said. Now, he said he’s more likely to administer breath tests and write them up.

Bentz said he tries to work swing or graveyard shifts when he can, especially for events like high school prom and graduation. "I can’t be at all places at all times. It’s like a cat chasing a mouse. You bust one (party) at 25 Mile and they’re going to find somewhere else to go."

He said it’s difficult to determine who is supplying underage drinkers, and adults can help by providing tips. "When I say they’ll be anonymous, they’ll be anonymous. People feel guilty for (providing tips to police) and they shouldn’t."

The penalties for minor consuming vary, Bentz said. First offenders who cooperate with authorities and plead guilty may have the charge dismissed if they register for an alcohol screening and complete any prescribed treatment, perform 32 hours of public service work and break no laws for 90 days.

Repeat offenders can be fined up to $1,000.

Parents can help, Bentz said, by questioning claims by teens that they’re "going to a friend’s house." Parents need to be vigilant, especially on weekend nights, he said.

Bentz said he doesn’t regularly collaborate with borough police about teen drinking but the two agencies work together for events like the brew festival and state fair. "Sometimes I’ll help the city and work a later shift and run from party to party around town. Or if I have a tip of a party at Seven Mile, I’ll have a (borough police officer) come out with me."

Bentz grew up in Juneau. He said a teen center or pool hall would help. "It should be a fun place for kids. It’s got to be cool, something they don’t think is dorky." Youths who are determined to find booze will, but for others, the town is lacking in healthy alternatives, he said. "We can’t even get the gym open."

Borough police chief Gary Lowe said he took a strong message from the recent meeting concerning underage drinkers. "Anybody we catch in possession of alcohol is going to get charged."

His force also can use breathalyzers on minors suspected of drinking, he said.

"The biggest help we need right now is help identifying who is providing alcohol to minors. We get tips, but as far as catching them doing it, we’re always reacting and behind the time there," Lowe said.

Lowe said his department is doing more enforcement on underage drinking than people believe. "You just don’t see their names in the newspaper."