The Bud Stops Here
Sunday, October 1, 2006
Alexander Yun, a sophomore at George Mason University, shared some beer on a recent Friday night with a friend off campus and then strolled over to the university with his buddy. It was a pleasantly cool evening, move-in weekend, and as harried moms and dads lugged boxes into dorms, Yun, a slightly built guy in cargo shorts and orange polo shirt, greeted Officer Tony Barton, who had been a track coach on campus the year before.
Yun probably wishes now he hadn't been so friendly. Barton and his partner, Sharon Radfar, smelled alcohol. Radfar asked both young men for identification and discovered that Yun was 19. His companion was in his early twenties.
Yun wasn't carrying a beer can or a bottle. A breathalyzer test registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.052, well below the 0.08 standard for drunk driving.
It didn't matter. Radfar charged him with underage possession of alcohol -- inside his body. Yun wandered off, a citation in his hand, looking slightly bewildered, while a couple of hundred feet away, Radfar's boss, Lt. Norman Barnes, nodded his approval. Radfar, Barnes explained, was doing her job. Beginning this past July, a new Virginia law mandates that anyone under the age of 21 convicted of alcohol possession -- for any amount, whether on or in the body -- will lose his or her driver's license for six months.
Barnes, 51, may be the Washington area's most visible campus alcohol cop and not just because he's 6 feet 9, weighs close to 300 pounds and wears size 16 high-top Nikes. It's also because he has made alcohol enforcement the top priority in the day-to-day police operation at an increasingly prominent institution with 30,500 students on four campuses, many of whom are under the legal drinking age.
The numbers show the change in emphasis: In 2002, George Mason's police force made 59 arrests for liquor law violations on the main Fairfax County campus; in 2005 there were more than five times that, or 311. Hundreds more students were referred to the dean's office or to counselors in each of those years.
Barnes is not satisfied, however. Cruising the campus in his navy Crown Victoria, he says not everyone on the force is pulling his or her weight. One of his four squads rarely makes arrests on weekends, when most alcohol-related incidents occur. That's going to change.
He drives by a group of six students on a street corner. "Freshmen," he growls. He stops and lowers his window.
"How ya doin'?" he calls out. And then, "What are ya doin'?"
"Just hangin' out," a young man answers.
Fat chance. And Barnes knows it. He proceeds to a small parking lot where, he says, the pack is headed. Other first-year students already there are waiting to be picked up by fraternity guys who will take them to parties off campus. Barnes spies a subcompact packed with so many students it looks like a car crammed with circus clowns. He sees one of his officers.
"They've got too many kids back there," he tells the officer. "Make some of them get out. And then park your car on the corner so students can see that police are around."