As Youth Officer for the New Canaan Police Department for the past 6 years, alcohol education and prevention has always and remains to be a top priority. When speaking in different forums with youths or parents the topic of alcohol and parties with underage youths is often discussed. Here are some of my observations and suggestions.
The Weekend Party
On any given weekend youths are looking for a house where there is no supervision. Perhaps the parents are out for the evening or away for a night or two. Once the word gets out it spreads quickly, usually via text messages, and there could be 50 to 75 kids at a house within minutes. Often officers arrive to find dozens of youths who’ve begun a mass exodus into the nearby woods leaving numerous empty and full containers of alcohol behind.
For officers responding to incidents involving alcohol and underage youths their primary concern is that of safety. They need to make sure there isn’t a youth or youths so intoxicated that they require immediate medical attention. An alarming number of youths have been transported because of severe alcohol intoxication over the past three years; with five in 2009, three in 2010 and eight in 2011. So far there have been no youths transported in 2012, but the fact that 16 New Canaan youth have needed immediate medical care following acute alcohol intoxication in the previous three years is a scary statistic.
The Power of Parents
Parents should continue to be involved with their kids and ask questions such as where they will be on a particular night and with whom. Consistency in communication is important and although it may not be “the” only answer to combat underage drinking, it is one of the key components to avoiding dangerous substance use by teens and can decrease the risks kids may be willing to take.
Parents and neighbors can also take practical steps toward preventing house parties while they are away. For example;
- Have a neighbor check your home while you’re away, instruct them to call police if needed
- Have an adult caregiver stay at the home if older teens remain home
- If you have an alarm and no one is at the home, change the pass code.
- If you are a neighbor, call the police if you suspect underage drinking at a local home with or without parent supervision. (the mass of cars, cups and noise usually accompany)
Kids are clever
How are kids getting access to alcohol? Some kids have an older sibling purchase for them. Kids take alcohol from their homes and there has been more talk about kids having fake identification. There have been reports that youths, under 21, are purchasing very high quality fake ID’s online from China.
Click on link for more information. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/02/china-fake-ids-homeland-security-tsa-screening_n_1397970.html
New Canaan Police have not run into youths with fake ID’s, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t around. It should be noted that possessing or using a fake ID may also open a youth to charges of forgery or criminal impersonation.
Many are unaware of the penalties that are imposed when a minor is charged with possessing alcohol. A minor, as it relates to alcohol, is any person under the age of 21. If a minor is charged with possession of alcohol on public or private property, they are cited and given an infraction summons. The fine is $136 and their operator’s license will be suspended for 30 days. If a minor is charged with possession on a public road or highway the fine is the same and their license will be suspended for 60 days. Parents should know that this Department of Motor Vehicle action may also affect their automobile insurance.
The law, as it relates to alcohol, defines possession as actual or constructive. Actual possession would be a minor physically holding an alcoholic beverage while constructive possession would be if a minor is within the control of alcohol. (i.e. standing close enough in proximity that may control it)
Click here for more information about underage drinking laws in CT.
Diversion and peer influence
As Youth Officer I have found that diversion, education and increased awareness for first time offenders is beneficial. New Canaan Police Department does have a Peer Jury diversion program for first time, non violent juvenile offenders. Additional criteria must be met in order for an offending youth to be considered for the program. This is a program that uses youths from another community to hear out the facts of a case and create a consequence that fits the offense. This has been found to be helpful in keeping some kids from having to enter the juvenile justice system and still create meaningful limits and consequences.
We also have a Student Resource Officer available at the High School for students during the school year. Many times the SRO is available to assist kids with decision making about upcoming parties or plans that may not be legal or in their best interests.
A few years ago I spoke with a 15 year old and his parents after the youth was transported to the hospital for severe alcohol intoxication. After our discussion the parents asked if their child could do community service or something positive to contribute to the community. I asked the youth to write a paper pertaining to his experience, why he engaged in that behavior and to write it as if he were writing to other youths. The paper I received was heartfelt and honest. With the parents permission I was able to forward the letter to the local media. The purpose was if reading the letter helped even one youth make better decisions about underage drinking, then it was a success.
To read the letter click below;
Please know that the New Canaan Police Department is dedicated to helping any parents or youths who need assistance, even prior to any necessary legal enforcement and ask that you contact the Youth Officer at 203-594-3523.