Champaign City Council approves grant to curb underage drinking

By Ali Braboy

In an effort to reduce underage drinking, the Champaign City Council approved a Substance Abuse Prevention Program grant totaling $71,479 from the Illinois Department of Human Services.

Sgt. Joe Ketchem of the Champaign Police Department said some of the grant money will go toward Unofficial. He said $54,289 was spent on Unofficial last year, and, due to the number of calls for services and problems of the day, Unofficial is an extreme burden on the public safety budgets.

The Champaign, Urbana, Parkland College and University of Illinois police departments will use the grant to implement compliance checks and party dispersals.

The grant will also go toward offering free TIPS (Training for Intervention ProcedureS) training, expenses related to covert officers, advertising and general management.

According to its website, TIPS is a “training program designed to prevent intoxication, drunk driving and underage drinking by enhancing the fundamental ‘people skills’ of servers, sellers and consumers of alcohol.”

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The grant is valid from July 2014 to June 2015, Ketchem said, but was approved for use on Feb. 3 because of the time it took for the state to review the grant application.

Ketchem said the grant will contribute to stopping the service of alcohol to minors.

“Our biggest number one problem is the overservice and the blatant service of alcohol to minors,” he said.

Community Elements approached the Champaign Police Department three years ago about receiving the grant; it was awarded to them last year and again this year.

Ketchem said the Champaign City Council allowed the Police Department “to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Community Elements.”

Juli Kartel, director of Youth and Family Services at Community Elements, said the organization looked at a segment of the population where there was not prevention work being done.

The group wanted to apply for the grant to reduce underage drinking on college campuses, Kartel said. They hope the grant will bring a reduction in underage drinking on college campuses over the next few years.

As mayor of Champaign, Don Gerard said he knows the police officers need to enforce the laws that are observed, but he wishes that money was going toward more immediate needs.

“It’s very important that students stay safe,” Gerard said. “We have laws, you need to be 21 to drink. However, not as the mayor, but as a taxpayer, I’d rather have my tax dollars money spent on something other than hassling 19- and 20-year-olds about drinking.”

He said there is a personal responsibility people should uphold by following the drinking age, but he also said visiting bars is a social experience: It does not mean a person intends to drink or get drunk.

“There’s lots of reasons to go to a bar,” Gerard said. “You can watch a Blackhawks game, or get a pizza, or play darts, or dance to a DJ or watch a band.”

Gerard said most of the trouble on Unofficial comes from out-of-town visitors rather than University students.

“I’m very proud of how University of Illinois students have stepped up and been more responsible, taken more ownership over the past few years,” Gerard said.

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