Roadblocks aim to stop underage drinking

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 14, 2014

Local law enforcement agencies have been cracking down on underage drinking, driving under the influence and a host of other violations, thanks to a shared $35,000 donated by the Covington County Children’s Policy Council Coalition.

CCCPCC Executive Director Susan Short said Friday that the funding came through a Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive grant, which is administered through mental health.

“This is our second year of the grant,” she said. “It will end Sept. 30, 2015. We are about to start our third and final year.”

Short said the $35,000 was divided among all the municipal police departments in the county, the sheriff’s office and the Alabama Beverage Control.

Short said the state looked at more than 200 pieces of data that were collected concerning the state, and the majority of the statistics dealt with underage drinking.

“Mental health wanted to know the top 20 counties that had the highest averages of underage drinking, binge drinking and drinking and driving,” she said. “Covington County was in the top 20. That’s how we were notified that we could apply for the grant. It is strictly about reducing underage drinking.”

Through the grant, local law enforcement agencies have administered additional roadside sobriety checkpoints.

“Our roads are safer thanks to this,” Short said. “It takes the person who is drinking and driving off the streets. Roadside checks are the quickest.”

River Falls Police Chief Greg Jackson, who has made “a bunch of drug cases,” said he has had 25 arrests so far, and has written 40 tickets.

“We’ve had three car chases since this started,” he said.

Jackson said he has until Sept. 30 to use the money from the grant, but said they are pretty close to using it up.

Covington County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy David Anderson said his department has conducted roughly 10 to 12 checkpoints.

“We’ve gotten a couple of DUIs, but no felonies,” he said. “We made good contact with people about wearing their seat belts and underage drinking. We are very thankful for the money. We are out there trying to make the streets and county roads safe in Covington County.”

Anderson said the county has used its portion of the money, but the department will continue to enforce the laws.

Andalusia Police Chief Paul Hudson said roadblocks will continue “until the money runs out.”

Hudson said APD is moving its roadblocks to different locations within the city and not focusing on any area more than others.

“As of today, there have been no minors with drugs or alcohol,” he said. “We have had a DUI and a drug charge or two. The grant itself pays for overtime, so we can have officers work the detail.”

Hudson said law enforcement officials are “not trying to violate anyone’s rights.”

“What we’re doing is supported by the law. We do a basic license and registration check, and if there is a problem, it can lead to anything else.”

Law enforcement agencies have until the end of the month to spend the grant proceeds.

Additionally, to increase awareness of underage drinking and drinking and driving, a billboard campaign will go up encouraging parents to talk to their children.

“Parents should start talking to their children around fourth or fifth grade,” Short said. “Parents should talk to them about the danger of drinking and driving, and also not riding with someone who has been drinking. It appears that kids take that loosely.”

Another component, Short said the organization is working on is, changing the physical design of an area that is not well lighted.

“You can alter of the behavior of a person who could be in that area,” he said.

The CCCPCC is also donating money to the cities of Florala, Andalusia and Opp for landscaping for lights.

“We are providing the lighting for areas to have more lighting,” Short said. “So (residents) do not engage in high-risk behavior.”

Short said they are not able to provide lighting for private property.