If you read the police blotter on page A5 of the Northwest Missourian every week, you are sure to notice some trends. A few car crashes happening in the same area, a familiar name appearing several times in a month for a recurring offense. However, one trend jumps off the pages of police records: the steady rise in “minor in possession” (MIP) offenses occurring in the areas surrounding late-night bars near the town square in Maryville.
The story on the front page of this issue details the drastic increase in these charges and a debate between bar owners and police over whether the bar entrance age of 19 is fanning the flames of this issue. We entered this debate in an editorial earlier this year when the City Council was preparing a vote on a resolution to raise the admittance age to 21.
Several months later, a different question emerges: since the trend of underage drinking has never and likely will never go away, why the sudden increase in minors getting slapped with MIPs? Why do a significant portion of these offenses stem from particular areas near some bars in town?
The culture of binge drinking on and near college campuses has been told all too often through harrowing hazing stories and exposé pieces from magazines and newspapers across the country. It continues to be a problem, and most of us who are still in college have accepted this phenomenon, with many believing the drinking age in America should be 18, similar to most countries around the world. This assertion, along with rebellious youth attitudes, underlies why many students decide to drink before they turn 21.
Today, we at the Missourian will not debate this particular topic nor will we re-address the bar admittance age decision made this summer. However, bar owners and Maryville police have an obligation to uphold the law and do a better job of educating minors of the dangers and costs of an alcohol charge.
The large concentrations of MIPs on certain intersections of town should certainly concern the owners of nearby watering holes. We all know they take certain precautions when minors walk through their doors every night, especially on a chaotic night. It’s either a brightly-colored wristband or a Sharpie-etched black ‘X’ on the back of your hand.
Various tricks around this identification method have been used by minors for ages, and while most bars do their best to combat these tactics, many don’t do enough to keep track of the activity of their patrons. This is clearly evident with the statistical rise in MIPs over the last few months compared with this time last year. From August to October there have been 55 MIPs issued compared to 34 last year during the same time. Keep in mind that all the records from this October aren’t quite in yet.
Ruling out unobtainable reforms, such as a reduction in the statewide drinking age, Maryville Public Safety, the city of Maryville and the bar owners should work together to reduce the number of students facing a costly criminal charge. The police and the city could institute programs and policies that could compel a minor to avoid drunkenly wandering in and out of bars on a Friday night.
Even the University could create more activities that offer students fun, alternative entertainment that won’t end with a date in court. Underage drinking will never die, but the community should do some damage control if it wants to cut down those egregious statistics.