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Police launch new program to increase alcohol awareness

University Police and the Center for Alcohol and Substance Education have targeted first-year students as the focus of new education and enforcement campaigns against underage drinking.

Made possible by a $6,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, University Police have purchased new educational equipment and allocated funds to substance education groups to help deter high-risk drinking.

"The grant really supports work with the police department," CASE Interim Director Alison Houser said. "We want to increase communication and collaboration among CASE, police, community members, Corner merchants and University students and administrators."

Among the equipment purchases are a new field breath analyzer test and pairs of Fatal Vision Goggles -- or, "Beer Goggles" -- that help simulate the effects of alcohol on vision and coordination, University Police Sgt. Melissa Fielding said.

The breath analyzer would be used during police confrontations with underage students and those over 21 who have been drinking and are interested in seeing the effects on their blood alcohol content, Fielding said.

The breath tests "are not something we use for evidence in court," she said. "It's designed to be a learning tool."

Other educational efforts include seminars given at residences, fraternities and to individual students to help teach them how to estimate their BAC and understand the various effects of alcohol on judgement, Houser said.

The enforcement component will include greater efforts to target alcohol violations in plain view, near first-year dorms, or as reported by residents and resident staff, Fielding said.

According to ABC Public Affairs Director Suzanne Horsley, the grant was awarded last semester after the University applied for money earmarked by the ABC for Virginia campus police departments.

"The money was for improving coordination between police and local ABC officials and links between campus police and substance abuse prevention groups," Horsley said.

The grant also is designed to encourage internal review of alcohol enforcement policy, she said.

"Part of the grant is for retaining law enforcement officials and substance abuse advisors and other personnel to see what improvements can be made on a policy side," she added.