Signal police should show some restraint

Signal police should show some restraint

May 18th, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

The arrest of 17 high school students for drinking alcohol under age earlier this month says more about the Signal Mountain Police Department than it does about the tipsy teens.

Namely, that they lack compassion and common sense. Can't they find something better to do than act in ways that are unduly harsh to young people?

Signal Mountain police arrest people for underage liquor law violations at an alarming rate. No police force in Hamilton County makes more arrests for drinking under age than the Signal Mountain Police Department.

In 2012, the Chattanooga Police Department arrested just four people under the age of 21 for liquor law violations, according to the TBI's annual report of crime statistics. Signal Mountain arrested eight. Chattanooga has 22 times more people -- about 163,000 more -- than Signal Mountain, yet the Signal Mountain Police Department arrested twice as many teens for drinking violations.

East Ridge, which has three times the population of Signal Mountain, had only two arrests for underage alcohol consumption. Red Bank had none. Lookout Mountain and Walden, which are similar to Signal Mountain in terms of population and socioeconomic climate, also had no arrests in 2012 for drinking under the legal age, according to the TBI.

It is likely, if not certain, that more young people were arrested on May 5 for drinking under age by the Signal Mountain Police Department than will be arrested for the rest of the year by every other police department in Hamilton County combined.

Signal Mountain's comparatively huge number of arrests for underage drinking isn't because Signal Mountain has a worse problem with alcohol among high school-aged kids. It's because Signal Mountain police lack prudence and restraint.

When most police forces are called to break up a house party for being too loud and arrive to discover the soiree is full of drinking teens, the cops give out stern warnings, have discussions with parents and offer safe rides home. Not in Signal Mountain.

In Signal Mountain, the police officers cuff and arrest a bunch of kids, giving them criminal records and potentially hurting their chances to graduate from high school or get into the college of their dreams in the process.

Is underage drinking illegal? Yes. Should police officers be able to arrest people engaged in illegal behavior? Without question. But there are better ways to help teens learn from their mistakes, make wise decisions and stay on the straight and narrow than tossing them into the back of a squad car for committing a very minor and ultimately harmless violation.

Signal Mountain police officers should remember that.