I am so a police officer!

Today, Joshua Holmes points (indirectly) to a story about underage drinking prevention gone awry. The basic story: an undercover campus cop tasked with cracking down on underage drinking before a University of Central Florida football game gets in an argument with some students who don’t believe he’s a cop. Heated words are exchanged, and the cop pulls out a gun and fires several shots into the air (or possibly into someone’s leg, depending on how much you trust eyewitnesses). An Orlando cop hears gunshots, sees a pissed-off guy waving around a pistol and, not surprisingly, shoots the campus cop dead (and, in the process, hits a student who may or may not have been involved in the argument).

Oh, and just for kicks, the UCF president is blaming the whole thing on “alcohol abuse”. Admittedly, if the campus police (in coordination with the ATF, note) hadn’t been hassling 20-year-olds about drinking, this wouldn’t have happened, but certain proximate causes seem rather more imperative.

My question is simply this: leaving aside the merits of the patently stupid law that says 20-year-olds can’t drink alcohol, why in the fuck is UCF sending armed, undercover police officers to crack down on underage drinking? The key here is the word “undercover”; armed cops in uniform may present their own problems, but being recognized as such usually isn’t one of them. There are certain contexts where undercover officers make some sense: drug- and prostitution-law enforcement (two other stupid laws, but we’ll let that pass), conspiracy/racketeering prevention, etc. → Personally I have serious qualms about the moral viewpoint that makes using undercover cops seem like a viable option, but, again, we’ll let that pass. However, enforcing the drinking age is not such a context; if you’re trying to make someone drunk stop drinking, you’d better either be a friend or a recognizable authority figure. The best way to prevent underage people from drinking is having lots of uniformed cops around. But that tends to be preventative rather than retaliatory, which entails better adherence but less revenue and publicity…and I see I’ve just answered my own question.

To be honest, the entire situation baffles me. My alma mater and its campus police enforced the drinking age only when the underage drunk had done something so incredibly stupid as to make the potential liabilities rather higher than could safely be ignored. The dean of students when I was there freely and openly admitted his belief that the drinking age should be 18, which was reflective of the institutional opinion generally. Everybody (okay, not the teetotalers) drank without a second thought in front of the campus police, who were at all large campus parties. Given that at least 2/3 of people at any given party were under 21, I think it’s safe to say the campus police didn’t cramp anybody’s style too much. → In a not unrelated note, I should also point out that although Sewanee was (and is) a hard-drinking school, consumption tended to proceed along safer lines than at many other colleges.

Keeping in mind that my experience may be somewhat unusual, I think it’s very interesting that underage drinking is inevitably classified as “alcohol abuse” (as, for example, quoted above). I don’t deny that alcohol can be abused and that what qualifies as abuse (in a clinical sense) may be age-dependent, but it’s pretty stupid to claim (or, rather, imply) that a 20-year-old drinking a beer is “abusing” alcohol. 12 beers in an hour, sure, but you generally don’t see undercover cops trying to bust middle-aged guys who throw down a half-case in an hour, so that argument’s out. Of course, the same inevitably goes for any use of any illegal drugs, as if smoking a bowl once a month qualified you for rehab. Ah, well. Yet another example of distorting the meaning of words to make objectively insane policy seem reasonable.

Okay, rant aside, I leave you with the following rhetorical question (poached from Balko): It appears that the Orlando cop who killed the UCF cop acted according to procedure and probably won’t be punished. If he had been a private individual with all the required licenses, would he be able to avoid jail?

3 Responses to “I am so a police officer!”

  1. Andy Stedman Says:


    He might not make it all the way to jail.

  2. Ross Says:

    Darwin award candidate.

  3. Wild Pegasus Says:

    Darwin Award candidates have to kill themselves in some crazy way, like the dog fetching a lit stick of dynamite, or the zookeeper inducing an elephant to take a shit and getting buried in it. If someone else kills you, no matter how hilariously, you’re out!

    btw shonk you have got to take advantage of the vibrant penn cocai^H^H^H^H^Hdrinking scene

    • Josh

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