By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Super Bulldog Weekend brought a lot of trouble for the Starkville Police Department in the form of alcohol-related charges, and they expect much of the same for this weekend and next.
“Last weekend we had 15 minor-in-possession charges, and 22 driving under the influence violations,” said Sgt. Shawn Word, who handles alcohol-related enforcement. “With those arrests, we also got possession of marijuana, possession of paraphernalia. We got an individual who was wanted on several indictments.”
This weekend is Phi Beta Sigma’s “Blue and White” weekend and next weekend is the Cotton District Arts Festival. With any special events, the police department expects to see an increase in crimes, particularly those that are alcohol related.
“Anytime you have more people, you have more violations that occur simply because your population expands. On special events weekends, usually people want to have a good time, and a lot of times, that involves consuming alcoholic beverages,” Chief David Lindley said. “Most of our problems are usually centered around consumption of alcoholic beverages. And we see a spike there in drivers that are under the influence of alcohol as well as an increase in consumption by people that are not of legal drinking age, which we call minors in possession of alcohol. A typical weeknight or weekday is whole different animal as far as policing a special events weekend.”
The police department prepares ahead of time for the influx of people that comes with a special weekend. Although Starkville is a relatively small town, it has become a popular place to socialize with an increase of events and new bars and restaurants. Often, social events and alcohol consumption go hand-in-hand and that’s when people start to make bad decisions.
“Once we realize what is coming that week, which we’ve known about both these weekends for quite a while, we set up overtime for the officers to come in,” Word said.
This time of year is also sees an increase in underage drinking. High school and college semesters are coming to an end, and some students add alcohol to their celebrations with dangerous repercussions.
“During the week of graduation, when you have a bunch of the under-21-year-olds, they’re done with exams and they’re just hanging out waiting for the graduation of friends,” Word said. “They don’t have anything else to do. You’ll see a higher rate of alcohol use among the minors during those weeks.”
“People that start drinking before their mid-20s are much more likely to become alcoholics,” said Linda Walker, who runs the Project Pass program, which aims to prevent and reduce underage drinking, at Starkville High School. Project Pass teaches the students about the dangerous health and legal consequences of drinking, especially while underage.
According to Lindley, minors found in the possession of alcohol are issued a summons to appear in court and then released. If they are between the ages of 18 and 21, they are required to go to the municipal court to face charges. Those under 18 must be released to their parents or legal guardians and are charged in a youth court.
The department takes alcohol violations very seriously. They are especially vigilant in keeping an eye out for underage drinkers and drivers under the influence during these big weekends.
“What people need to understand is that we have a zero percent tolerance for DUIs. And that results in a lot of people getting arrested,” Lindley said. “We’ve lead the state the last couple of years in actual numbers of people arrested and charged with being under the influence of alcohol, in spite of the fact that we’re not one of the largest cities. But we have more DUI arrests than cities much larger than us.”
The legal limit for those over 21 in Mississippi is a .08 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Under 21 years old, the limit is a BAC of .02. Receiving a DUI charge can mean serious legal trouble. In Mississippi, the first DUI charge could mean 48 hours in jail, a fine of $250 to $1000, drivers license suspension of 90 days, and alcohol education programs. And it gets much worse from there. A second offense means 5 days to 1 year in jail, a fine of $600 to $1,500, a suspended license for 2 years, and community service. They could also be required to use an ignition interlock system, which requires a breathalyzer test before starting a car, for up to 6 months after a driver’s license is reinstated. Their vehicle could be impounded, and they could be required to attend a victim impact panel. Three or more DUI charges results in jail for 1 to 5 years, a fine of $2,000 to $5,000, license suspension of 5 years, and vehicle seizure. They will also be required to attend a alcohol abuse program. They could get the ignition interlock, be required to forfeit their vehicle or have it impounded, as well as alcohol education and victim impact programs.
Getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated can be deadly, but Starkville has plenty of alternative ways home.
“We have taxi companies here in town, we have the shuttle service that’s provided by the university. People here have a lot of options other than getting behind the wheel when they’ve had too much to drink that other communities may not have,” Lindley said. “We try to encourage people to realize that if they are out having a good time, and they’ve made an error in judgement and consumed too much, that there are other alternatives for trying to get back to where they’re going.”
Having a designated driver is always the safest choice.
“That’s the thing that always amazes me; when we stop these guys and they say that was their only way of getting home, but the second they’re trying to bond out, they can get you 10 sober drivers to come to pick them up from the police department,” Word said. “Call those people and get them to pick you up from the bar first, and then there won’t be a problem.”