State of ZAP in flux

The Zero Adult Providers project is undergoing a change.

“The ZAP project is currently in a state of confusion,” said James Sachs, assistant dean of students.

ZAP was designed to help prevent underage drinking, according to the Minnesota Institute of Public Health.

“Preventing underage drinking is not just about getting kids to say no to alcohol. It’s also about getting adults to stop providing alcohol to kids,” according to the Institute of Public Health’s Web site.

John Hershey, the neighborhood liaison for St. Thomas, said he doesn’t think anyone in the city knows if the ZAP project has been cut due to state budget cuts.

“ZAP is up in the air,” he said. “No one is really clear about what they’re doing with [ZAP].”

However, Robyn Wiesman of the Minnesota Institute of Public Health, said the ZAP project is still active.

“[I’m] not sure of state budget cuts, but from our perspective, [the budget] hasn’t changed,” she said.

ZAP was funded from a Minnesota Department of Public Safety grant, as part of the Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws Program, Wiesman said.

Sgt. Tim Ramstad said St. Paul Public Safety has not funded ZAP in about eight years.

“As far as I know ZAP is still active,” he said.

ZAP’s history

Before ZAP was formed, the police department was giving out about 50 underage drinking citations a year, according to the Minnesota Institute of Public Health.

Individuals who were part of the criminal justice system became concerned with the low number of underage drinking citations being issued compared to the size of the population, number of college campuses and number of officers, so they formed the ZAP project .

Officers agreed to act as if underage drinking parties were crime scenes, treating them like the scene of a burglary or any other crime. Officers wanted to know who was the provider of alcohol and gather evidence for charges.

“[The Ramsey County courts] determined that underage drinking should not be a payable offense – treated like a parking ticket – but should have more significant, effective consequences,” the Institute of Public Health’s Web site said.

People charged with providing alcohol to a minor or for underage consumption must appear in court. The defendant may be subject to a year’s probation, a chemical use pre-assessment, community service, court cost fines and an alcohol education class.

Now officers are issuing tickets to offenders, Sachs said.

“The front end [of ZAP] is still active, while the back end has changed,” he said.

Sachs explained the “front end” of ZAP to mean police issuing citations to people who are caught giving alcohol to a minor or someone under age.

The “back end” used to mean if someone was issued a citation, he or she would have to go through several legal channels, such as community service.

“[Officers] are writing tickets that are payable now,” Sachs said.

He added that the ticket prices are expensive, about $270, though the amount has changed over the summer.

In addition to the dangers of underage drinking, neighbors of college students must deal with the negative effects of students’ partying.

“The students don’t know that I have heard complaints from six different people who have complained about noise on the streets,” Hershey said.

Hershey’s wife would pick up beer and liquor bottles in the grass and on the sidewalk when walking their dog on Sunday mornings, he said.

During certain instances, students can even abuse property.

“Occasionally, we find a tree that is uprooted or a broken flower pot,” Hershey said. “You can’t ascribe any damage to a particular member of our community, but you know it happens when we’re in session and it doesn’t happen when we’re not.”

Most students still party, despite complaints.

“Zap isn’t effective,” junior Katie Erlandson said. “It may be ZAP weekend, but we’re still having a party.”

Due to the success of the ZAP program in St. Paul, Chisago County adopted a similar attitude in 2003 to catch underage drinkers and adults who were providing minors with alcohol, according to the Minnesota Institute of Public Health.

“Aggressive enforcement of underage drinking laws has resulted in fewer alcohol-related problems at the University of St. Thomas,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Junior Jaimie Carpenter said she believes underage college drinking can’t be stopped.

“ZAP doesn’t make a big difference,” she said. “[Students] stay in for ZAP weekend, but they will go out the next weekend instead.”

Rebekah Frank can be reached at