A culture of underage drinking and adult binge drinking in eastern Iowa has some law enforcement agencies cracking down.
The Iowa Department of Public Health determined 23 of Iowa 99 counties have the highest rates of both underage drinking and adult binge drinking. 11 of those counties are in eastern Iowa. The map is HERE.
The IDPH has distributed federal grant dollars to each of those 23 counties.
In Dubuque County, one of the 23 to receive grant money, the police department and sheriff's office are using the dollars to crack down specifically on underage drinking.
Loras College junior Jessica Fino, 21, has seen firsthand the effects of underage drinking.
"I had a friend die in high school, who was killed by a drunk driver," Fino said, "so I think that's the biggest thing for me, just keeping people safe and keeping them out of trouble."
She works for Helping Services for Northeast Iowa, a group partnering with the Dubuque police department and Dubuque County Sheriff's Office to help curb underage drinking.
"People don't realize how much happens. I did a ride-along with the Dubuque Police Department in February, and I actually witnessed a drunk driver total his car, and he was a college student," Fino said. "There's people who can't get a job because of something that happened because of alcohol."
The Dubuque police department and Dubuque County sheriff's office are both receiving a grant of $3,200 to help crack down on underage drinking, especially around graduation time and warmer weather.
"We're not, obviously, saying people shouldn't celebrate these occasions," Dubuque police lieutenant Scott Baxter said. "We just want to make sure it's done legally and safely. The last thing we want, obviously, is a tragedy to mar one of these events."
Police enforcement efforts will focus on the residential areas near Dubuque's major colleges: Clarke University, Loras College and the University of Dubuque.
"This is a chronic problem throughout the year, but especially this time of year," Baxter said.
The grant comes from the US Department of Health and Human Services, distributed through the IDPH.
Dubuque police will use the money to fund the overtime pay of several additional Dubuque police officers on certain shifts this spring to respond to house parties with suspected underage drinking.
"It's not obviously just Dubuque, but we do tend to be identified as a community that has some alcohol-related issues," Baxter said. "We're not here to wreck anybody's good time, we're not here to rain on anybody's parade, as they say, we're just here to try and keep people safe, and that's our job, so we'll be out there doing it."
Baxter said the grant will help make the rest of the community safer. The grant-funded officers will respond to parties with underage drinking, free up the patrol officers on their regular shifts to respond the needs of the rest of the community.
The bulk of this crackdown on underage drinking will happen in May and June, right around when students are getting out of school for the summer.
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