Sheriff forms task force to combat underage drinking

Following multiple high profile instances of underage drinking involving Colby students in recent months, the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office received a grant to stifle the illegal attempts of those under 21.

According to Waterville Chief of Police Joseph Massey’s email correspondences with the Echo, the grant will be used to create a “multi-agency task force in Kennebec County to address underage drinking and to perform compliance checks at establishments that serve alcohol to ensure they do not serve alcohol to minors and visibly intoxicated persons.” Massey estimated the grant to be around $15,000.

Massey confirmed that Waterville police will be participating in the task force, and added that he believes most law enforcement agencies in the County will be doing so. He also said that although this funding has been available to counties in Maine for several years, the specific usage for the task force is a new idea.

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro declined to comment to the Echo in an email correspondence.

The mandate of the task force is broad and could affect underage students who choose to test their luck at both bars and off-campus residences. “As warmer weather approaches, enforcement details made up of members of the task force will visit areas and communities where intelligence, tips, patterns, or hot spots indicate there is underage drinking occurring or establishments known to serve underage drinkers to enforce Maine’s liquor laws.”

Recent incidents in which large numbers of Colby students have received citations for underage possession of alcohol include a January house party on Carroll Street, where 12 students were cited, and a March bar night at Silver Street Tavern, where over 20 students were cited for underage possession and fake identification.

Senior Class Co-President Caroline Dove told the Echo, “It is not a surprise[…]that the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office is making efforts to combat the issue of underage drinking, especially in the wake of recent events. We believe this will definitely lead to a larger police presence at bar night and at other drinking events that take place in Waterville outside of Colby’s campus.”

Dove added that while little will change for most upperclassmen, she anticipates the task force to affect younger students’ decision making, “While bar nights will continue to occur weekly—the local bars that we coordinate with have expressed that they are still eager to host—these changes will certainly dissuade underage students from attending bar nights.”

Director of Security Pete Chenevert reiterated Dove’s message in an email to the Echo, “Students using false IDs will be the targets [of the task force].”

Massey did not directly confirm that students should continually expect a police presence at Thursday’s bar nights, but he said, “Locations for enforcement action will be based on information that indicates underage drinking may be occurring at a particular time and place.”

Jiggs Lawlor ’19 fired back at the decision, saying to the Echo, “Rounding up college students and flooding the courts with underage drinking citations is a waste of public dollars.”

Although the primary actions of the task force will remain off of Mayflower Hill, Chenevert warned that it will “watch for open containers and consuming in public. It is possible that they may even come to campus, so students should beware.”

The question of how the College’s security and Waterville police will interact to address underage drinking once the student residential complex is open downtown has yet to be answered, according to Chenevert. In an interview with Dean of the College Karlene Burrell-McRae ’94, she said that the current plan is for Colby Security to respond to calls regarding the dorm, as they would if it were on Mayflower Hill. However, Burrell-McRae said that if someone directs a complaint about the dorm to the police, there is nothing the College can do to transfer jurisdiction back to Security.

It is clear that the introduction of a new task force is one of many changes that will occur downtown in the coming years, and it is likely one that will make its mark on the relationship between the College and Waterville.