University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student Adam Bauer has nearly 400 friends on Facebook. He got an offer for a new one about a month ago. “She was a good-looking girl. I usually don’t accept friends I don’t know, but I randomly accepted this one for some reason,” the 19-year-old said.
He thinks that led to his invitation to come down to the La Crosse police station, where an officer laid out photos from Facebook of Bauer holding a beer — and then ticketed him for underage drinking.
The police report said Bauer admitted drinking, which he denies. But he did plead no contest in municipal court Wednesday and will pay a $227 fine.
He was among at least eight people who said Wednesday they had been cited for underage drinking based on photos on social networking sites.
“I just can’t believe it. I feel like I’m in a science fiction movie, like they are always watching. When does it end?” Bauer said after court Wednesday.
Social networking sites are among many new tools law enforcement has adopted to find underage drinkers, said La Crosse police officer Al Iverson, who works in alcohol compliance and education.
“Law enforcement has to evolve with technology,” Iverson said. “It has to happen. It is a necessity —not just for underage drinking.”
Social networking sites are used to catch sexual predators as well, he noted.
But Bauer said, “I think there are a lot worse things (police) could be spending their time on.”
The photos officers found were of him, his roommates and a couple friends hanging out at his house, Bauer said.
“We were actually trying to be safe and not go out on the town and get crazy,” he said.
Bauer’s friend, 20-year-old UW-L sophomore Tyrell Luebker, also was tagged for underage drinking based on Facebook photos. He, too, pleaded no contest Wednesday.
“I feel like it is shady police work and a waste of taxpayer money to have him (an officer) sit on the computer on Facebook when he could actually be doing police work,” said Luebker.
Iverson pointed out the students still were caught in an illegal act, one they felt comfortable and confident enough about to put photos of on the Internet. Posting those photos, he added, helps glamorize alcohol consumption and binge drinking.
Someone else posted photos on a Facebook site of UW-L sophomores Brianna Niesen and Cassie Stenholt holding beer, but they still ended up in court Wednesday pleading no contest and getting fined.
The practice ultimately could hurt the positive alliance law enforcement wants to build with students so they will report crimes, Niesen said.
“I feel like it is a breach of privacy,” Stenholt said. “You feel like you should be able to trust cops.”