Text-a-tip service partners with Mid-Coast businesses to prevent underage drinking
BRUNSWICK — The Communities Against Substance Abuse coalition is joining with 10 regional businesses to promote its anonymous text-a-tip service, aimed at preventing substance abuse by teenagers.
Now in its second year of service, the "eTip" program allows people to send anonymous tips to police via text message, e-mail or a smartphone app about underage drinking, illegal drug use and other concerns.
For the month of December, businesses in Bath, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Brunswick Topsham and Richmond will distribute coffee cups that bear the eTip logo, along with a phone number where anonymous tips can be sent.
The cups also displays a link to CASA's Facebook page, Mid Coast Parents Connect, which is meant to connect parents in an effort to keep an open line of communication about substance abuse issues.
Besides the towns with participating businesses, eTip also covers Arrowsic, Georgetown, Harpswell, West Bath and Woolwich.
Melissa Fochesato, CASA's program director, said this month's promotion is meant to educate the community about one of the many ways teenagers, parents and others can help prevent substance abuse.
"When we work to prevent underage drinking, all the evidence shows that the more partners at the table, the better your luck," Fochesato said. "So we outreached to businesses because that's a potential source of alcohol for youth and a potential source of education for the community."
In the past year, there have been several instances when eTip was used to charge teenagers for drinking and drug offenses, or to prevent parties where substance abuse was expected, according to Brodie Hinckley, director of the Sagadahoc County Communications Center.
On Nov. 16, 2012, for instance, an anonymous tip was used to inform a parent who was able to prevent an underage drinking party from starting in West Bath. A few days later, another anonymous tip led to several Bath teens being charged for drinking and drug offenses.
"The best tip we can get (is) to hear about the party before it happens, because it's just a knock on the door," Fochesato said. "... No one gets in trouble and no one gets a ticket and there won't be an underage drinking party."
The eTip program director said she understands if some people might feel reluctant to "tell on others" – especially when doing so anonymously seems like the only option – but if it can save someone from getting hurt, it will be worth it.
"We look at it as protecting a person," Fochesato said.
Partipating businesses said they decided to join the effort because they want to help the community.
Kirk Grover, manager of Maquoit Market, a participating business near Brunswick High School, said he decided to participate after taking an alcohol certification training session provided by CASA.
He said the coffee cups are a good way to get the word out.
Janet McKenney, one of the co-owners of Warmings Market on Maine Street, said she would to "anything to help the community."
"We believe in supporting the Brunswick area and helping kids," she said, adding that children and teenagers are among her regular customers for breakfast sandwiches and pizza.
On the other hand, Dan Libby, one of the co-owners of Libby's Market on Jordan Avenue, said while he supports the program, he's concerned that eTip's anonymity aspect could be abused and lead to false reports.
"We're totally in support of the system," he said. "There just has to be accountability."
Police Capt. Mark Waltz said he understands Libby's concern, but noted that police can't charge a person based only on an anonymous tip.
"If we don't have (the tipster’s name) and if we can't confirm independently, according to the U.S. Constitution, we wouldn't be able to stop the car," he said, adding that there would have to be probable cause for a charge to move forward.
In cases where police can identify a tipster who makes a false report, Waltz said, he or she would likely be charged with a Class D crime, punishable by up to a year in jail and $2,000 in fines.
But Waltz said he hasn't seen much abuse of the system.
"And because our officers are well trained, I don't see it as a way to harass people," he said, adding that the benefit of such a program outweighs the few false reports that may have been filed.
Fochesato said it's important to remember that eTip is just one of the many strategies CASA uses to help prevent substance abuse in teens.
She said her coalition also works with businesses for alcohol certification training and other campaigns to discourage underage drinking.
"Anonymity is sometimes what's needed for some adults and kids who feel uncomfortable sharing a tip," she said.