Chief: Summer sees underage alcohol use spike
A number of inexpensive liquors and other alcoholic beverages are a primary choice of underage drinkers in Wrangell during the summer months – when underage drinking spikes.
When the heat, sunshine and warmer waters of Zimovia Strait arrive every summer, it’s a chance for the residents of Wrangell to let loose, get in some time on the water, and generally enjoy the beautiful outdoors.
But for some younger Wrangell residents the long nights of summer can also mean a misdemeanor charge for being a Minor Consuming Alcohol.
In 2012, according to Wrangell Police Department Chief Doug McCloskey, his office cited 67 minors for using alcohol under the age of 21. That year, a spike of 8 and 13 cases were seen in July and August, respectively. That number was down from the previous two years, which saw 78 cases – with a three-year spike of 33 cases alone in July-August of 2011.
McCloskey said that although illicit use of alcohol by minors is steady in Wrangell, the prevalence of such matters sees a jump during the summer months.
“Generally you see an increase in the summer,” McCloskey said. “People are more out and about, so it becomes obvious. We also have an influx of younger people that are away from home for the first time. They are earning money and have more disposable income, so it seems to be a recreational path that folks follow.”
McCloskey said there a number of ways underage drinkers acquire alcohol in Wrangell, with one method standing out among the rest.
“There are three primary paths for the kids getting the alcohol,” he said. “First, you see the 18- or 19-year-old with a 21-year-old friend providing it. The next most common way they get it is to lift it from friends and relatives who don’t keep it secure. They’ll find a boat cooler or in a refrigerator that is looked at seldom. A lot of it comes from stealing it from other people.”
The third way underage drinkers get alcohol, however, is the one most troublesome to McCloskey and his department.
“The most concerning way is the predatory relationship,” he added. “You will see older people providing it to younger people for whatever the benefit is. You’ll see a partner of age purchasing for a boyfriend or girlfriend who isn’t of age. The younger kids are always trying to grow up faster, so fitting in is important. But that is a troublesome way for them to get it, as far as I am concerned.”
The chief also said for some kids in Wrangell, an MCA is considered a rite of passage – though he says it isn’t worth it.
“It probably is that way with a few of them. I think it’s more just that they don’t know any better,” he said. “They hear the stories about what parents, relatives and friends have done and think that is the way life is supposed to roll. But, it’s really a question of ‘what’s the advantage?’ It costs you a bunch of money to buy the alcohol and it costs you a bunch of money if you get caught. You lose your driver’s license. It just goes on and on with no advantage.”
And when it comes to what the youth of Wrangell choose to drink when they decide to consume alcohol, McCloskey added that it isn’t always top shelf beer or liquor.
“We’re not talking about connoisseurs here,” he said. “You don’t see good quality beer, wine or liquor. These are kids that think there is a great advantage to being intoxicated whether it’s expensive or inexpensive. Why spend more money than you need to get drunk? The intoxication is the point, not the enjoyment of a beverage.”
Although alcohol use spikes in the summer months, statistics from the WPD show a consistent amount of drug-related cases throughout the year. There were 19 cases of Misconduct Involving a Controlled Substance in 2011, a decline from the 25 cases in 2011.