Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias Two beer stings. Outraged malt beverage license holders who feel targeted. A defensive police department. Expressions of anger, concern and support of the police action from the Vermillion community.

Emotional debris has been scattered all over the city since police ran the two undercover beer stings.

Push all of that aside, however, and three components of this issue become clear, especially after Monday�s city council meeting.

First, we, like so many communities in today�s society, have an underage drinking problem.

Second, while some of us may question just how effective stings are as a solution to this problem, it�s apparent that the police department�s policy to reduce consumption of alcohol by conducting stings will not change.

Third, the beer sting issue has revealed a common thread shared by, we hope, a vast number of Vermillionites no matter what their stand on the undercover purchase operations may be.

Police, alcohol beverage license holders, and the community�s typical Joe or Jane Doe don�t want to see young people using alcohol.

The risks are just too high. The police know that. So do the retailers that expressed their concern to the city council two weeks ago. So does Rev. Bob Grossmann and the group of concerned citizens he represented at Monday�s council meeting who support the stings.

For the record, we�ll remind everyone of the stance taken in this column a couple weeks ago. It was anti-sting. That sentiment hasn�t changed.

We know there are others in the community with similar feelings, and the biggest mistake we all could make is to let those feelings get in the way to finding a solution to Vermillion�s underage drinking problem.

We�re certain that the community can demonstrate its willingness to tackle this rather daunting task.

One of the best ways to do this has been suggested several times, and was voiced by Police Chief Art Mabry once again Monday night � the formation of a Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) chapter in the community.

Before Vermillion police ran the sting operations, it tried twice to organize a chapter here. It sent letters to community members, and ran notices in the Plain Talk, telling of the first organizational meeting on Feb. 11.

Only 12 people showed up, and we understand that most of them were members of the police department.

Law officers tried again, and sponsored a second meeting March 18. Again, letters were sent out. Again, there was publicity in the newspaper.

Again, not enough people showed up to make formation of a MADD chapter a viable alternative for combatting underage drinking.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded in 1980, out of the tragic death of a 13-year-old California girl who was killed by a repeat offender drunk driver. The rapid development and expansion of the organization, fueled by her mother�s outrage at the lenient laws and weak judicial response to the crime of drunk driving, signaled that the battle against drunk driving was on in earnest.

The campaign, sustained by the activism of the founder and countless other dedicated volunteers, grew into a national crusade. With more than two million members and supporters, MADD continues to take seriously its long-term goal of putting a final end to tragedies caused by alcohol and other drug-impaired driving.

MADD methods have been proven to be effective. Annual deaths from drinking and driving have decreased from approximately 28,000 in 1980 to 16,068 in 2000. In 1982, 57 percent of all traffic fatalities were alcohol-related. In 2000, preliminary statistics indicate the percentage of fatal traffic crashes that were alcohol-related fell to 38 percent.

According to the Vermillion Police Department, during 2001, 270 people in the community were cited for underage consumption, 200 arrests were made for driving while intoxicated, and there were 17 alcohol-related accidents resulting in two deaths in the Vermillion/Clay County area.

In 1998, MADD changed its mission statement to reflect the emphasis of the organization on the prevention of underage drinking, and today MADD has a growing number of youth programs including Youth in Action, Youth Power Camps, Student Activist Training, Operation Prom/Graduation, and MADD�s National Youth Summit in Washington, DC.

People who have been critical of the recent police stings have expressed a willingness to become involved in local attempts to reduce underage drinking.

The Vermillion Police Department will try, once again, to form a MADD chapter here, probably about the time the new school year begins.

We may hold different opinions on the techniques used by law enforcement. But when Vermillion police ask for help once again, the community must respond.

It must show a willingness to help decrease underage consumption by organizing a MADD chapter here.

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