RPD Chief Weighs in On Zero Tolerance Underage Drinking Policy

Patch sat down with the Reading police chief to find out more about the new zero tolerance policy when it comes to underage drinking.

Patch sat down with Reading Police Chief James Cormier last week so he could answer some questions about the new zero tolerance policy that the department implemented due to ongoing issues with underage drinking.

On Sept. 2, according to Reading Police, officers reported to a house party were over 40 youths were present without adult supervision. As a result of the party, 38 minors were charged with possession of alcohol and one youth was charged with furnishing alcohol to minors, police said. 

After that incident, Reading Police decided to implement a zero tolerance policy regarding cases that involve underage drinking. The policy requires that any person under the age of 21 caught in possession of any amount of alcohol will be charged with minor in possession of alcohol. 

To further explain the policy, Cormier stated that "the zero tolerance policy that we are referring to is an internal policy within the police department. It's for our police officers."

He went on to say that the policy is for the police officers to understand that "when they interact with anyone under the age of 21 who is in possession of alcoholic beverages, we want them to then be put into the system, if you will. We want them to be charged with the crime of a minor in possession of alcohol."

However, after they are initially put into the system, whether there was a complaint form filled out or they were arrested and if the minor has a clean record, they may be offered a court diversion. The diversion is for first time offenders and will keep the charges from appearing on the person's record, if they do what is asked of them. They may have to attend a class on alcohol or drugs or something similar and obey their home rules. They may also be asked to complete community service and sign an agreement stating that the person will not "get in trouble again" for a period of time. These steps or "court diversion" will happen before the person would ever go to an arraignment, according to Cormier.

Although, if the person did not comply with the agreement and did not complete the class or community service then he or she will have an arraignment and be formally charged.

Constructive possession

The law of possession of alcohol also includes constructive possession, which means that minors can be charged even if they are not physically holding alcohol. For example, if four minors are in a vehicle and a 30-pack of beer is found on their rear seat, all four could be charged with being in possession of the beer, according to Cormier. In the same scenario, if only one can is found under the passengers seat, only the passenger would be charged.

If reporting to a house party, police will carry portable breathalyzer tests for young adults to take. If they blow a 0.0, they will not be charged as a minor in possession of alcohol unless there is an exception. An exception would be if an officer sees a minor in direct possession of alcohol; just because the person hasn't had a sip yet does not mean he or she will not be charged.

Also, if there are other things happening, such as trespassing or creating a disturbance for example, it doesn't mean that there won't be other charges, Cormier said. Every situation is different.

"We're hoping to find that happy medium where we can accommodate the needs of the young adults who are trying to do the right thing," he said.

The difference between zero tolerance and the previous policy

The difference with the new policy is that the situation is "dealt with in a legal manner as opposed to the police officer not letting it show up on your record because he doesn't take action," the police chief said.

He went on to say that in the past a police officer may have given you a "stern talking to and finger wagging and sent you on your way, but that isn't proving to be effective in what we are trying to accomplish with the underage drinking issue in our town."

Two of the department's biggest concerns: driving while intoxicated and alcohol being a gateway to more serious substance abuse issues.

"Our goal is to get some education done and let these young adults know that underage drinking has some really serious, potentially bad consequences associated with it," Cormier said.

To learn more about preventing substance abuse, visit the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse Edline page.

Barry Berman October 03, 2012 at 12:10 PM
Good for you Chief. We all hope our kids will make the right choices. However, when they don't they need to know there will be consequences. I would also like to see some sanctions against parents who allow their homes to be gathering points for underage drinking parties
Mary October 03, 2012 at 01:27 PM
I'm still not sure about this policy. The problem is it leaves the parents out of the equation. Parents need to be involved. It also leaves the chance that innocent kids could end up with records because they were at a party and it got out of hand. And they haven't done anything wrong. My daughters are being taught that if alcohol is at a party they are to call us. We will pick them up around the block so they aren't embarrassed to be leaving. I can only hope they listen if and when they may be put in that position. But, I definately wouldn't want their future potentially ruined because of a mistake when they are a minor.
Common Sense October 03, 2012 at 08:01 PM
Mary, it is illegal for minors under the age of 21 to possess or consume alcohol. The new policy doesn't leave parents out the equation. Parents shouldn't need to act after the fact. As a parent you should be teaching your children that the law is in place for a reason. There will be no innocent kids ending up with records because they should know this policy, and be responsible enough to not put themselves in this situation. Also, as the article states, first time offenders will be offered court diversion, which will clean their record.
otis redding October 04, 2012 at 12:18 AM
Glad to see we're spending taxpayer money on "making sure kids get put in the system" for being within the vicinity of alcohol (more likely, just trying to be social and be with friends- something that high school kids both in Reading and across the country have been doing for decades!), yet meanwhile the town has lost three to opiate addiction/ opiate-related crimes in the past year. Seems to me the priorities are out of order here- but more likely, the new focus on busting up high school parties to "put kids in the system" is just low-hanging fruit for the RPD and school administrators, while tackling the opiate scourge is too much a challenge... for shame.
Barry Berman October 05, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Otis, those we have lost to opiate overdoses universally started out as underage drinkers. It is a gateway.
Ben Hicks October 05, 2012 at 07:00 PM
We have lost kids to opiate overdoses because of the RPD's and Reading community's lack of ability to deal with the real problem. I'm a 21 year old who's been surrounded by this shit and I'd like to let you know that the RPD has the information and lacks the initiative to act on it. Nearly everyone drinks and smokes marijuana under the age of 21. Not all of them become perc and heroin users. They usually become underachieving middle class citizens. Get your shit straight
Barry Berman October 06, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Ben, as a young person you have a unique perspective. What would you like to see the RPD and the community as a whole do to alleviate the problem?
Ben Hicks October 07, 2012 at 04:38 PM
It's really not the RPD's issue anymore. Legislation is working to make it harder for those things to end up on the street. Obviously the ability of people to get heroin will continue but the issue is the prescription drugs that are flooding the streets of the northeast. It's a larger problem than the RPD can deal with, and putting kids on probation for underage drinking is not the right way to go about dealing with it. It will create a lot of backlash.
Pat December 27, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Ben Hicks and Otis are clearly the only people who didn't grow up living a sad, sheltered life with no friends. The reading police should put more effort finding the percocet dealers/users and busting them. They are the ones that have a problem and no longer have morals or a clear thought process. The kids doing opiates these days are not doing them because underage drinking and smoking, but because family problems/ availibility and friends/siblings using/ and their own choice. To say underage drinking is the cause is simply ignorant. I have friends that dont drink/ quit for personal reasons and have the will power to go to social gatherings without taking part. others go too far and start using opiates. It's the persons life/choices. So more of an effort should be done to stop the kids distributing opiates and stealing from kids for that next fix. I hate losing friends to this type of garbage. C'mon RPD lets get real. Everyone was at a teenage/young adult stage in there life and underage drinking and marijuana smoking is just a reality. Lets put more of an effort on the terrible issue thats turning some of my friends I grew up with into emotionless thieves and scumbags, and also killing them.


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