Police Alcohol Enforcement Squad comes up Dry, Issues Tickets & Fines Anyway

Two graduating high school women in Maryland decided to have a backyard graduation party for about 80 friends and family. There was a blues band, a setup for making s’mores, a popcorn machine, hot dogs, hamburgers, ginger ale, cranberry juice and root beer flowing. But no alcohol was available to anyone under the age of 21. It was all-American and very Norman Rockwellian

Then the police arrived to say that someone had complained about the noise. That’s not surprising because outdoor bands and big parties tend to be noisy. But the police didn’t simply ask the celebrants to lower the noise level. They wanted to administer alcohol breath tests to everyone in attendance at the private party who was under the age of 21.

The homeowner knew that the small amount of alcohol on her property was carefully guarded in the kitchen by responsible adults and restricted to persons of legal age. She also knew that having a squad of uniformed police administering breath tests to virtually all the partygoers would effectively destroy the carefully planned celebration. So she exercised her Constitutional rights and declined their request to invade the legal gathering without probable cause.

The police then cordoned off the entire block with six police cars and gave alcohol breath tests as people left the home, but no one tested positive for any alcohol. The police were part of an eight-officer Alcohol Enforcement Section that combs the county in search of any person under the age of 21 who consumes any alcohol. “It almost seemed like they were angry that they didn’t find anything,” said the homeowner.

Then the police began ticketing vehicles parked outside the house, which included those of neighbors who weren’t at her party. Cars were ticketed for having a tire touch a curb and similar trivial and typically ignored technical infractions.

Perhaps the homeowner was correct that the police got angry when they realized that no underage drinking had occurred at the party. They had clearly wasted their time but weren‘t going to go away without something to show for their efforts. Although the homeowner has questioned their clearly suspicious actions, the police continue to defend their behavior.

The officers may have violated no law, but perhaps they should devote their time and energy to catching real criminals. After all, there are much more effective ways to reduce underage drinking.

“Give a small boy a hammer and he’ll go around hitting everything in sight.”


  • Trejos, Nancy and de Vise, Daniel. Police Ticket Cars in Lieu of Teens. Washington Post, p. B04, June 7, 2005; Duncan Investigates Parking Ticket Controversy. WTPO Radio Network, 5:09 PM, June 7, 2005 (wtpopnews.com).