“Most times students are just being polite and respectful, but they don’t always have to be that cooperative; they don’t always have to show their fake ID or admit, ‘Yes, I was drinking,’” Muse said.
But she said being polite could help students in court.
State ALE officer Josh Batten, assistant special agent in charge, said officers consider several things when choosing bars to visit.
“For the most part we go where we have complaints, but we also go where there’s a crowd and where it’s busy,” Batten said.
Batten said ALE receives calls on a tip line from members of the community, other police departments and even from parents.
“We have had complaints from parents saying ‘My child is drinking here, and I know they sell here to underage,’” Batten said.
Mineer said he also keeps up with social media sites, such as Yik Yak, as a source of information.
Batten said there is a misconception that people can always walk away when approached by an ALE officer.
“If we see you drinking, we can conduct an investigation to prove you are under 21,” Batten said. “You can certainly refuse to give your ID or answer questions, but then you are subject to being arrested if we have probable cause to think you committed a crime.”
Mineer said sometimes a person approached by ALE is not required to show identification or answer questions, but it depends on the situation. He said voluntary encounters, which can happen when an officer approaches someone who isn’t drinking at a bar, are one example.
“If I walk up to you and say, ‘Hey, I am with the Chapel Hill Police Department, can I talk to you?’ That is obviously optional,” Mineer said.
Muse said people also do not usually have to submit to breathalyzers when approached in a bar or in the street unless they are stopped while driving a car.
Batten said most people tell officers the truth, but sometimes they try to hide things.
“If you open up your bag and we see something that is illegal to have, that’s one thing,” Batten said. “But we normally don’t just take things and search them.”
But a UNC junior who asked to remain anonymous to protect her reputation said an ALE officer confronted her after he saw her drinking underage. She told the officer she did not have an ID with her.
“He grabbed my bag, and I said, ‘No, please do not touch my bag. No, I do not want you to touch my bag,’ but he took it anyway and found my fake ID,” she said.
She said the officer told her she was being detained before he searched her.
Muse said for alcohol violations cases, an officer will generally need consent to search belongings for a fake ID.
Muse said officers have the right to search a person in some cases, such as under the presence of a warrant, after the person has been arrested or if they see illegal contraband in plain sight. But she said it depends on the situation.
If students think an officer has treated them unfairly, it could raise a possible defense in court as to whether seized evidence could be admitted, Muse said.
“If an officer was just rude but it was not necessarily illegal, then I tell clients to write a letter to the officer’s supervisor about their behavior after the case has been resolved in court,” Muse said.
Lt. Josh Mecimore, spokesman for the Chapel Hill Police Department, said law enforcement focuses on both education and enforcement.
“We try at the first of the school year and the first of the sporting season to send a clear message that open consumption is not OK and that underage consumption is not going to be tolerated,” Mecimore said.
But that doesn’t mean officers stop patrolling later in the semester.
“People have this belief that after September, everybody goes away,” Mineer said. “But that is a myth.”