Fifth Street

Fifth Street at night.

More law enforcement agencies now have the tools to address fake IDs which leads to more fake IDs being confiscated in downtown which has led to a decrease in fake ID usage.

Special Agent in Charge Northeastern North Carolina for Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE), Eric Swain, said the most frequent violations ALE finds in downtown Greenville are fake IDs and underage consumption of alcohol which goes “hand in hand.”

Anytime there’s a large number of people uptown, such as around holidays, the beginning of the semester and home football games, there are officers patrolling the downtown area. Swain said he has had as many as 12 officers patrolling for big events.

Over Halloween weekend from Thursday night to Saturday night, said eight ALE agents were working and there was a total of 68 arrests and 111 charges, Swain said. These arrests were in Greenville and the Pitt County area where some people may have received multiple charges, he said.

There were 17 charges for possession of alcohol by 19 and 20 year olds, Swain said. There were seven charges of possession of alcohol by someone who was ages 16-18, he said. There were two charges of purchasing alcohol by a minor and two charges of giving alcohol to a minor which is when an of age person gives alcohol to someone who is underage or when someone uses a fake ID to purchase alcohol for someone else, he said.

11 people were charged with underage consumption of alcoholic beverages but they may have received multiple charges for underage possession of an alcoholic beverage or possession, Swain said.

There were four charges of possession of a Fake ID over Halloween weekend, Swain said. There were three charges of use of a Fake ID, which is seven Fake ID charges total, he said. Fake ID usage is decreasing, according to Swain.

“I will say the trending of, we’re seeing a trend of Fake ID use declining which is what we were after. We want to see the Fake ID use decline, we’re definitely seeing that now,” Swain said. “Uptown because it’s so busy and there’s so much going on, it’s really hard to gage, to get a real truthful idea of what’s going on on that one holiday because it’s so busy.”

When Swain was promoted to supervisor in charge of the district which includes Greenville in 2014, he took a “different stance” and worked to find the source of where those who are underage were finding alcohol, Swain said.

There are not more ALE officers patrolling downtown now than in previous years, with only 74 ALE officers in North Carolina, Swain said. Greenville PD (GPD) and Pitt County Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) are using Age ID apps downtown that ALE uses to scan fake IDs, he said.

For big events ALE usually has about four officers and Pitt County ABC will also have officers patrolling, Swain said. He said there are three Pitt County ABC officers and they spend more time downtown than ALE.

“We’re making arrests in Greenville. Greenville PD is also. Where in the past they didn’t have the fake ID app on their phones so now they’ve got the same app we have and Pitt ABC has so they’re able to work the fake ID issues too, so there’s more officers with the tools and resources to work the fake ID issues than ever before,” Swain said.

Rob Waldron, co-owner of Club 519 and Rafters, said he isn’t against the policing. He said he just doesn’t want to live in a world where there are police on every corner because most of the people in downtown are good people. He said he has heard that there has been an increase in enforcement of carding people on the sidewalk in downtown Greenville.

On Sept. 11, Club 519 tweeted on its official Twitter account that it had a meeting with the city and Club 519 agreed with local business owners that “a standing army” was not needed to enforce downtown.

According to Waldron, he has been to bigger cities such as Washington D.C which has a bar district and is patrolled but he doesn’t see as many cops patrolling the bar district there as seen patrolling downtown Greenville.

“You don’t necessarily have to be doing something illegal to want to avoid that many police, especially when you’re already getting the feeling most of the police are begrudgingly working down there because they’ve been told to and don’t necessarily want to be there on that particular detail, you pick up on that vibe,” Waldron said.

Fake ID’s are giving those who are underage “a license to drink,” Swain said. ALE is seeing problems with underage binge-drinking, people getting hurt, fights and sexual assaults due to intoxication and other public safety issues as a result of fake ID usage, he said. ALE put the majority of its resource time on the underage use of fake IDs, he said.

Swain said ALE is trying to stop the use of fake IDs in downtown, and one method it is taking is by collaborating with East Carolina University to create a video which informs students that if they are caught using a fake ID twice, they will lose their driving privileges for a month which has only been done in Pitt County.

Swain said he collaborated with the District Attorney’s office to enhance the ability of someone who is found guilty of underage drinking to earn a prayer of judgment, deferred prosecution or dismissal. If someone is found using fake IDs a second time they will have to give up their driver's license for a month.

First-time offenders will be given a deferred prosecution and their case will remain open for a year, Swain said. Having an open case could impact students when they are applying to other schools such as nursing or grad schools, he said. If first-time offenders want to get the offense off their record earlier, they can turn in their license for a month.

Second-time offenders will have to complete community service and turn their driver's license into the clerk of court for 30 days, Swain said.

Jerhald Mercado, a junior majoring in geology at ECU, said he has noticed an increase in the amount of cops downtown since the first weekends of class in the 2019 fall semester from what he’s seen.

Mercado said he doesn’t fear that he’ll get in trouble because he is 21 and usually sober when he goes downtown. He said he has seen cops break up fights downtown.

The police presence downtown doesn’t prevent him from going downtown and make him feel safer, Mercado said.

“I see them more as a reminder for people not to get too hammered and I feel it works out pretty well,” Mercado said.

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