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UCFPD chief pushes for stronger enforcement of underage drinking laws

UCFPD lists ages of DUI suspects, where they reported coming from

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ORLANDO, Fla. – The University of Central Florida police chief is calling for state and local leaders to do more to fight Orange County's underage drinking and driving problem, including fining and shutting down bars caught serving underage people.

"The state has the authority to do that," Chief Richard Beary said. "And in my professional opinion, they're not as strict as they used to be and they need to get back to where they once started. But politics have gotten involved and they're not near as stringent as they were years ago."

UCF police don't have jurisdiction to make surprise visits to college bars off campus in order to check patrons' IDs. Instead, UCF's chief tracks DUI data on a spreadsheet.

[WEB EXTRAS: UCFPD DUI Data 2014 | 2015]

"So that's why we turn that over to agencies that have jurisdiction: the Orange County Sheriff's Office and the state," Beary said. "And they have jurisdiction, and they can monitor the people and the problems at those locations."

Local 6 obtained a copy of UCFPD's DUI data, listing drivers' names, ages and where they said they were coming from. The majority of drivers on UCFPD's list of DUI suspects were under 21.

In 2014, UCF police said they pulled over 10 DUI drivers who reported coming from Knight's Pub and seven were under 21, according to the UCFPD DUI data spreadsheet. UCF police also said they pulled over six DUI drivers who reported coming from the Knight's Library bar and five were under 21 from March 2014 until March 2015, according to the UCFPD DUI data spreadsheet.

"The data is pretty clear there are certain locations that are continually putting people out on the road that are impaired and in many cases are underage," Beary said. "So those locations need to be addressed."

Local 6 did not hear back after reaching out to Knight's Pub and Knight Library for comment.  

Underage drinkers also reportedly came from downtown and the Mad Hatter bar near UCF that closed last fall, the UCFPD DUI data shows.

"For every one we get, there's probably seven or eight that we don't," Beary said.

Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, known as the ABT, licenses and regulates the alcohol industry. The ABT has the power to conduct unannounced surveys -- essentially sting operations where it sends an underage person into a bar to attempt to purchase alcohol. If a bar is caught serving underage patrons often enough it can be fined thousands of dollars and have its license temporarily suspended or even revoked.

But the department has faced pressure from Tallahassee to slash 30 percent of its sworn law enforcement officers -- who are needed to conduct the stings -- and reclassify them as civilian inspectors focused on regulatory functions to save money.

"Although the Bureau of Law Enforcement is relatively small, ABT routinely works with all law enforcement agencies throughout Florida in an effort to curb underage drinking," said Chelsea Eagle, the deputy director of communications of DBPR.

Beary believes more of the resources the state currently has should be directed to the areas his data has identified as a concern. The chief is calling on members of the community to contact county commissioners and state legislators to urge them to push underage drinking enforcement resources to the UCF area.

Beary also points out underage drinking is not just a problem plaguing UCF students. UCFPD has even found a 16-year-old suspected DUI driver, who did not say where he was coming from. An Orange County Sheriff's Office incident report listed a witness to a stabbing in a parking lot behind the Knight's Pub as a 17-year-old who was "very intoxicated," although the report did not say where the teen got drunk.

Legal experts warn bars could possibly face big lawsuits for serving underage people, especially if an underage drinker gets behind the wheel of a car and crashes.

"If someone gets hurt as a result of this intoxication, that's unlawful, then the bar or bartender's on the hook," said attorney Steven Kramer, founder of Kramer Law.

But Connie Russell, whose son Matthew Beard, died after being hit by a drunk driver in South Florida, warns UCF students the price is much greater.

"I can promise each one of you there is nothing worse in this world, there is nothing more excruciating than watching your child die," she said.

[WEB EXTRA: 'Matt's mom' urges UCF students not to drive drunk]