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DUI Charges Below Average, Underage Drinking Remains an Issue

Lake Forest remains low in instances of driving under the influence, but underage drinking is still an issue at local schools.

There have been 37 driving under the influence arrests this year in Lake Forest – 28 of those just since May 1. (Summers, on average, have a higher number of cases of drinking and driving.)

And while that number may seem high, Deputy Chief Glenn Burmeister points out that this is actually fewer than many other places around the state, due in part to the limited number of liquor licenses issued, the zero-tolerance policy for drinking and driving and the dedication of the community to educate others about the dangers.

Burmeister noted that the limited number of liquor licenses granted can play a major role in the number of DUI arrests in a community. In Lake Forest, there are no establishments that solely provide alcohol – liquor licenses are only given to  businesses that serve both food and beverages. This, in turn, helps discourage people from going to the businesses for the sole reason of becoming intoxicated. He also noted that the latest a Lake Forest business can serve alcohol is 1 a.m.

“There hasn’t been a reduction recently [in drinking and driving], but it hasn’t gotten worse,” Burmeister noted. “I’ve been here 30 years now, and we began these steps 30 years ago.”

Burmeister noted that there has been a serious drop in numbers of high school students who have been arrested for drinking and driving, which he attributes to the dedication of organizations such as MADD, SADD and Speak-Up, as well as educational classes offered to students by the police department itself.

“We put on a class called ‘Youth and Law’. It’s open to the parents and to high school students,” Burmeister said. “We also have a school resource officer teach at driver’s education classes. … But it’s not just drinking and driving – it’s drinking in general, and we recognize that there’s a huge problem with that.”

The Illinois Youth Survey – which Lake Forest students can voluntarily participate in – found that  in 2008, District 115 10th and 12th graders reported levels of use of alcohol, binge drinking, marijuana and prescription drugs that exceeded the reported averages in Lake County with most reporting their first use of substances before the age of 15. The 2012 results of this survey will be released on Oct. 4, with Burmeister expecting to see a slight downward trend.

“We do score higher than the state or county averages,” Burmeister said. “I attribute that to the availability and pressures. We’ve done some teen summits and they’ve identified that pressure on our teens to succeed is greater than in other communities.”

Burmeister also said that another reason for this could be that some parents don’t see the harm in underage drinking.

“Some of our population thinks that they drank in high school,” he said. “And they turned out okay. They’re not familiar with the new literature that the brain is developing until age 26, but we’re working to get that information out.”

But, Burmeister says, Lake Forest is also very fortunate to have people in the community who want to tackle the issue of underage drinking.

“We’re fortunate here in Lake Forest with our police department – we have a good relationship with the community, and with people who want to get active and help attack some of these problems,” he said.

Deputy Chief Burmeister is retiring next week after 30 years with the Lake Forest Police Department.

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