Austin Cracks Down on Fake Identification
By Samantha Reichstein
Scanning fingerprints, posing for mug shots and sitting in a jail cell for more than 10 hours. For underage students at the University of Texas caught using a fake ID, this could be a regular weekend night.
In a line of stings that began in late April, Austin police have ticketed, fined and even arrested minors for using these fake IDs to get into bars downtown. Police say the issue has received more attention in the past year due to increased crime rates among underage victims who are intoxicated.
“We decided that reducing the amount of intoxicated minors will lower the crime rate when it comes to violent crime or property crime,” said Sgt. James Dixon, a member of the Downtown Area Command Metro Tactical team of the Austin Police Department.
He said that one way to take victims out of the equation is to stop the problem at its source.
The Austin Police Department approached the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission about tackling the issue of fake IDs this summer, after catching a student in Travis County with over $70,000 worth of counterfeit materials being used to create and sell fake identification.
“We have always worked operations with TABC, but forming this public coalition together, we now have the manpower to really enact laws,” said Dixon.
Both Austin Police Department and TABC officers use tactics such as standing outside of bars or questioning students in the downtown area by checking IDs thoroughly.
However, many students at UT are unwilling to give up their downtown fun despite the threat of being caught.
One 19-year-old sophomore economics major from New York knew of prior arrests, but never thought she would be caught. The student asked not to be named and is identified by a pseudonym, Jane Doe. Doe was arrested on September 24 after showing a fake ID to a bouncer outside the popular 6th Street bar Burnsides.
“After being cuffed by two officers, my arms were placed in an unmovable position below my waist and I was thrown into a truck that drove to the station,” said Doe. “Until 10:30 the next morning, I was given four pieces of white bread, no water and was continually yelled at by multiple officers.”
Doe attempted to get out on bail, but was told by officers she could not leave until the judge came back to work the following morning. After calling her parents and family friends in Austin, Doe waited in her cell until her release on Friday. Since the arrest, Doe’s lawyer has attended her first court hearing, and Doe is hoping the process to clear her permanent record goes as smoothly as possible.
Others around campus are also beginning to notice these potentially harsh consequences.
Nicole Alexander, a 19-year-old junior from Houston, owned a fake ID and used it frequently over the past two years. However, she began to have second thoughts after hearing personal stories from many friends who have received tickets and fines.
“I am not going downtown again until I turn 21, which is not ideal since my birthday is in August, the summer before my senior year,” said Alexander. “I’ve realized that risk isn’t worth the reward.”
Minors who may not be convinced to stay off Sixth Street may find themselves in trouble, but have access to legal help for a small price. UT’s Legal Services for Students, which began in the 1970s, prides itself on helping students in need, and educating others on legal safety.
Associate Director and J.D. Sylvia Holmes began working with Legal Student Services in 2010, seeing around 1700 students per year.
“When it comes to fake IDs, students need to know that being in possession of one is a Class A misdemeanor and will land you in jail,” said Holmes. “But with Legal Student Services, we can help you with every step of the process, including assistance in court.”
According to TABC Public Information Officer Chris Porter, police are continuing their focus on fake IDs, putting the safety of Austin’s community first.
“This is a public safety concern, and we will continue to try and stop the situation before these minors put themselves in danger.”