Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

April 2, 2013

Excise focuses on alcohol and tobacco laws

Debbie Blank
The Herald-Tribune

BATESVILLE — By state statute, Indiana State Excise Police possess full police powers to enforce any state law, including traffic enforcement. “But the agency’s primary focus remains enforcing alcohol and tobacco laws, as well as certain statutes regarding gaming in licensed premises,” reports Cpl. Travis Thickstun, ISEP public information officer, Indianapolis, in the 2012 annual report.

Enforcement officers are assigned to six regionally located district offices and headquarters in Indianapolis. Ripley and Franklin counties are served by District 4, based in Seymour.

The report noted officers seized 45 guns during their enforcement activities. Thickstun observed, “Taking 45 guns out of the hands of criminals last year is one of many ways excise officers work to keep communities throughout Indiana safe for residents and visitors.”

In February 2012, the police launched the Intensified College Enforcement initiative, part of a multiyear effort by the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to reduce underage drinking. ICE aims to promote safety both on campus and in the affected communities through educational programming coupled with highly visible law enforcement.

Thickstun explained, “The program’s goal is to reduce risky behaviors, like underage ... and binge drinking, in order to promote safer college communities for students and local residents. While the program’s goal was to change behavior and not simply to issue tickets and make arrests, excise officers took appropriate enforcement action when they found someone violating Indiana law.”

After some early signs of success, ICE expanded from three colleges in the spring to six in the fall. “One significant example came during Indiana University’s Little 500 in April 2012,” he reported. During that week, 267 patients between 17-23 were treated at the IU Health Bloomington Hospital emergency room for alcohol-related reasons, down from 656 in 2011.

Another measure of success comes from a reduction in crashes involving 15- to 20-year-old drunk drivers in all six counties where excise officers conducted ICE details. The numbers remained steady at 101 each in 2010 and 2011, then “fell drastically by 56.4 percent to 44” last year.

The district issued 1,540 alcohol, 1,048 tobacco and 106 gaming permits last year.

During 2012, officers conducted 16,922 enforcement inspections. “In fact, many businesses were inspected more than once,” according to the report. A total of 596 permit holders were cited for administrative violations, an 8.7 percent decrease from the previous year. Written warnings were issued to 460 businesses, up 7.7 percent over 2011.

Of eight of the most common alcohol-related criminal charges filed, only one decreased in 2012, public intoxication, down 5.4 percent to 122.

“One unfortunate trend excise officers have seen emerging in recent years is the number of severely intoxicated people, most of them less than 21..., who require medical treatment because of their levels of intoxication. Excise officers took more than 50 people to emergency rooms for medical evaluations last year after they were found to be dangerously intoxicated.”

Minor possession, consuming and transporting alcoholic beverages rose 37 percent to 3,172. False ID or false age statement increased 26.8 percent to 592.

With 576 cases, furnishing alcohol to minors went up 46.2 percent. A Feb. 26 news release reported the businesses most willing to sell to teens in 2012 were farm wineries (30 percent), horse tracks, satellite facilities and gaming sites (26.7 percent), historic river vessels (23.3 percent) and hotels (14.3 percent).

Least likely to sell alcohol to them were civic centers and economic redevelopment projects (no failures), private clubs (1.5 percent), drug stores (2 percent) and grocery stores (3.3 percent).

Package stores were willing to sell alcohol to minors in 7.7 percent of inspections, while restaurants and bars were willing to sell in 6.8 percent.

Scott County had the highest failure rate at 40 percent, followed by Crawford and Brown counties. Ripley County’s failure rate was 6.8 percent. Five businesses were cited in 2012, up from one in 2011 and two in 2010. Franklin County’s failure rate was 5.4 percent. Two businesses were cited in 2012, down from four in 2011 and nine in 2010.

Sizable increases were seen in the number of arrests for driving while suspended or habitual traffic violations (up 109.7 percent), theft or criminal conversion (up 106.5 percent), and battery (up 180 percent). Smaller increases were seen in the numbers of people charged with operating while intoxicated (up 30.6 percent), open container violations (up 17.9 percent) and resisting arrest or fleeing (up 11.9 percent).

The report showed youth may find it more challenging to smoke. Three of four of last year’s most common administrative and criminal tobacco charges declined.

Sales to juveniles at stores plummeted 70 percent to nine. With 24 cases, selling or providing tobacco to a juvenile fell 58 percent. Tobacco possession by juveniles totalled 446, down 48 percent. Stores with no or expired certificates increased by 13 percent to 58.