Most grants for special initiatives to address a public need are a blessing. They provide the money to do research, pay for resources above and beyond a department’s budget and often help to address a problem.
One major downside to grants, however, is that once the money is gone, what do you do next? If the money is used to fix a problem, the problem might still be there after the grant’s funding dries up.
That’s where the Lawrence Police Department now stands after using Kansas Department of Transportation grants to combat underage drinking in the city.
The grants were used most recently for a unique opportunity to educate youths that police are watching them. The department targeted Lawrence area youths who might be looking for a fake ID. More than 5,200 people between the ages of 16 and 20 clicked on a Facebook ad that the department placed featuring a fake ID of the character McLovin’ from the movie “Superbad.”
But instead of getting a chance to obtain a fake ID that could be used to try to buy alcohol, people who clicked on the ad were directed to the New Tradition Coalition of Lawrence website. The group fights alcohol abuse and underage drinking.
Coalition members said interest in the Facebook ad clearly illustrates the demand for fake IDs and the prevalence of underage drinking in Lawrence.
The Facebook campaign was preceded by another KDOT-supported effort, dubbed Fake ID 101. Last spring, uniformed officers entered bars to check IDs. In a second phase of Fake ID 101, officers made traffic stops and were out on foot, patrolling Kansas University and the Oread neighborhood on football game days. They also targeted parties in houses or at apartments. As a result, about 105 citations were issued to minors in possession of alcohol and 60 citations for fake IDs.
KDOT has agreed to fund another Fake ID 101 grant in Lawrence next fall.
What the department and the coalition have determined by using the KDOT grants is there is a widespread underage drinking problem in Lawrence. And police have put Lawrence youths and KU students on alert that they are watching.
The projects have value for our community. But what is needed is a sustained program because the problem is not going away. KDOT should be thanked for the resources. But the Lawrence Police Department, and the entire community, including KU, need to support a long-term and sustained initiative to fight the problem of underage drinking.