Local News

Chapel Hill police, bars work to curb underage drinking at Halloween bash

Posted October 27, 2015 5:55 p.m. EDT
Updated October 27, 2015 6:44 p.m. EDT

— Days before an estimated 30,000 people descend on downtown Chapel Hill for the annual Halloween celebration on Franklin Street, police gave local bar owners a refresher course Tuesday on spotting fake IDs.

The Halloween bash is billed as family-friendly, and alcohol is banned on the street. But area bars will be open, and alcohol-related problems are routine.

"Last year at the Halloween event, the number of alcohol-related calls – I mean serious alcohol, like transported-to-the-hospital serious – the number was off the charts compared to previous years," Police Chief Chris Blue said.

Twenty-nine people were taken to local hospitals for alcohol-related emergencies at the 2014 event, Blue said, adding that his officers responded to 79 incidents that night, many of which were fueled by alcohol.

"That's staggering, and that's concerning," he said.

Not all of the people involved in those incidents were underage, Blue noted, but in a college town, the odds are many of them were.

Chapel Hill police want people to have fun on Halloween while remaining safe, and to assist on their end, Blue brought in a former state Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement agent to remind bar owners and their staff of their responsibilities when it comes to underage drinking and over-serving customers. The agent also gave them tips on how to spot a fake ID.

"An expired driver's license? Bam! You know you've got a problem," said Alan Fields, the former ALE agent.

He also noted that underage drinkers are often nervous and try to avoid eye contact.

Several employees from popular Franklin Street spot Top of the Hill took part in the training. General Manager Guy Murphy said accountability and responsibility are keys in his business.

"First and foremost, we need to make sure our customers are safe," Murphy said.

In July, a 20-year-old former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student was charged with using a fake ID to drink at two Chapel Hill bars and later killing three people while driving the wrong way on Interstate 85.

"It is a reminder of how seriously we do need to take underage drinking and over-serving," Murphy said.

Many bars plan to have extra staff on hand for safety issues and to keep an eye out for underage drinkers. The Chapel Hill Police Department also brings in about 150 extra officers from other municipalities to help patrol the Halloween party.