SUMMER at the shore has begun, and that means it's time to renew the great traditions that have survived for generations - building sand castles with the kids, strolling the boardwalk, riding the waves of the endless, rolling sea, basking in the warmth of the sun.
But this summer, there's one unwanted tradition that all of us who live and work in North Wildwood, N.J., intend to bring to an end - underage drinking. Recently, the North Wildwood Tavern Owners Assn., the New Jersey Tavern Owners Assn. and the city of North Wildwood joined forces to send a strong "zero tolerance" message to underage drinkers, which in New Jersey is anyone under 21.
The member taverns, including my own Keenan's Irish Pub, have all committed to stepping up detection and enforcement efforts, as well as adopting a new "Check Yourself" public-awareness campaign to alert those not of legal drinking age that they have a responsibility to check themselves before attempting to gain entry to our bars with fake or fraudulent ID.
The public awareness campaign features posters, print and radio advertisements, and includes a litany of penalties for underage drinking. It's an appropriate response to a longstanding problem that's been made even more difficult as a result of the easy access to technologically sophisticated fake IDs that make detection challenging, if not impossible.
Practically every tavern owner in North Wildwood was victimized last summer by underage kids who gained entry through professionally produced counterfeit driver's licenses or real licenses owned by their similar-looking siblings or friends.
We are aggressively warning not only underage drinkers, but parents and siblings who aid and abet their crime, that we will go after all of them to the fullest extent provided by law. We want to put an end to this dangerous and unwanted Jersey shore tradition.
Underage kids who are contemplating trying to scam the system need to know the severity of the punishment in the state of New Jersey:
* Loss of driver's license.
* A $1,250 fine or mandatory jail time.
* Mandatory participation in alcohol education or treatment programs.
* A criminal record.
* Mandatory reporting of conviction on all legal documents, including student loan applications.
In addition to launching the new public-awareness campaign, many of the participating tavern owners have purchased state-of-the-art handheld ID verifiers and are training staff in the use of this technology that can detect fake or fraudulent IDs.
MANY OF US have hired additional security personnel who are required to undergo training in how to spot fake IDs and to notify police as soon as an underage drinker is caught trying to enter an establishment.
North Wildwood is regarded as one of the shore's nicest and safest tourism destinations - and we intend to keep it that way. Contrary to what some might think, we do not want underage kids in our bars. It's illegal, it's dangerous for those who attempt it, and it puts our businesses at risk.
By working closely with police and the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and getting our zero-tolerance message out far and wide, we can dramatically curtail underage drinking at our establishments and keep young people out of harm's way.
That's a new tradition everyone can enjoy. *
Jack Keenan is president of the North Wildwood Tavern Owners Assn.