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Police monitor Facebook, YouTube to halt underage drinking

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Law enforcement officers are turning more to Facebook and YouTube to track and identify underage drinking.

Social media are giving police new tools to investigate cases in which minors are involved in alcohol-related crashes, fatal falls or sexual assaults, said Gary Robinson, spokesman for the West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration.

ABCA officers can monitor Facebook party invitations to find where liquor or beer is served to minors and can watch YouTube videos of parties to spot offenders, Robinson said.

More than 40 ABCA officers from around the country were in Charleston on Friday for the National Liquor Law Enforcement Academy. The annual academy focused on topics to train ABCA officers with the latest trends and programs, including the role of using the Internet to track underage sale and consumption.

"We all have the same challenges, but we are given different tools to deal with them," Robinson said.

In March, West Virginia University students were the subjects of a viral documentary during St. Patrick's Day celebrations. The video depicted students drinking heavily, setting fires and other illegal behavior. School officials, police and ABCA officers watched the video and issued citations to some of the students who drank underage.

Robinson said ABCA officers were shown a similar video shot at an unnamed college before and after a football game.

"You would have thought you were in a war zone," Robinson said. "There were cars being overturned and cars on fire and rioting. It made the few incidents in Morgantown look like child's play."

The video was shown to get ABCA officers thinking about how to spot offenders and aid police in their investigations.

Cpl. Fred Alvarez with a police department in Ontario, Calif., instructed a class on special investigations.

"It involves going back and finding where a minor, either involved in a huge devastating traffic collision or overdose with alcohol, and backtracking where they got that alcohol," he said.

An ABCA officer's main priority is to get communities to work together to prevent underage alcohol deaths, he said.

Robinson said about 1,700 college students die every year from misuse of alcohol. There are about 70,000 sexual assaults in the country and an even higher number of unreported cases, he said.

"The purpose is to underscore the fact that the negative consequences of over-consumption or illegal consumption aren't just highway safety issues," he said.

ABCA officers are trained to investigate fatal falls, fires, thefts and suicides involving alcohol, he said.

Robinson said the ABCA encourages parents to be strict with their children when it comes to alcohol. The administration also urges colleges to educate people at their feeder schools - both high schools and small colleges that "feed" into larger schools -- about alcohol abuse prevention.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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