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Police and fire

The Journal Gazette

Excise warnings spiked by smoking

Campus crackdown led to more charges

– While the Indiana State Excise Police focused more resources to target underage drinking at the state's larger college campuses last year, fewer businesses were cited for alcohol-related infractions.

Instead, more businesses were issued warnings for infractions than previous years, according to the excise police's annual report.

A spokesman for the state excise police – which monitors illegal alcohol and tobacco sales – said the rise in warnings most likely stemmed from officers being more lenient when it came to Indiana's new smoke-free-air law.

"When we came across violations, we usually issued a warning," said Cpl. Travis Thickstun.

The state's smoke-free air law took effect July 1 and prohibits smoking in most places of employment, public places, restaurants, the area within 8 feet of a public entrance and state vehicles.

Bars, tobacco retail shops, cigar bars, membership clubs and state-licensed gaming facilities and licensed horse track facilities are not subject to the law.

Statewide in 2012, there were 596 alcohol-related citations given to businesses – an 8 percent decline from 2011 – and 460 warnings were issued – a 7 percent increase.

In 2010, a mere 312 warnings were issued while 751 citations were dished out.

In Allen County, excise police issued 54 citations at various businesses for alcohol violations during 2012, 10 fewer than in the previous year.

Fines for those violations ranged from as low as $150 to as high as $2,500.

Those violations included everything from serving alcohol to a minor or allowing a minor to loiter to having an employee without a permit to serve alcohol.

There was, however, a slight increase in the number of Allen County businesses willing to sell alcohol to minors during inspections performed by excise police using underage youths.

Twenty-eight businesses sold to minors in 2012 during these inspections, up three from the previous year. Statewide, the number of times businesses sold to minors went down nearly 40 percent.

Businesses, for the most part, may have escaped the wrath of excise police, but college students certainly did not.

As part of federal funding, the excise police launched the Intensified College Enforcement program, which placed officers in highly attended tailgate areas at campuses during sporting events.

The targeted campuses generally had major sports teams and student body counts of between 4,700 and over 40,000.

As a result, criminal charges brought by state excise police statewide against minors for alcohol possession, underage consumption or underage transportation of alcohol rose 37 percent, according to the agency's annual report.

"To us, we don't see the additional number of tickets as a failure," said Thickstun, the excise police spokesman. "What we want to see is the number of those who chose to drink going down, and we want to see the negative consequences go down, as well."

Thickstun noted that alcohol-related vehicle crashes involving 15- to 20-year-old drunken drivers in counties where targeted universities are located dropped 56 percent.

The biggest decline – 86 percent – came in Monroe County, home of Indiana University. "Issuing tickets and making arrests, those numbers are up there quite a bit, but then the number of drunk driving incidents are down," Thickstun said.

"That's where we look at it as a success," he added.