Cumberland County sheriff’s deputies recently got wind of an underage drinking party at a gravel pit in the New Gloucester area.
Organizers had replaced a cable lock with their own, so the entrance to the pit looked secure, but partiers could drive in.
The creativity didn’t stop the party from being broken up, and some youths were ordered to appear in court.
“A summons is a lot better than the alternative,” said Cumberland County Chief Deputy Kevin Joyce. “If we don’t get involved, we’re apt to be making death notifications because a youth started drinking and couldn’t make good decisions.”
The substance-abuse prevention task force 21 Reasons has launched a cooperative effort with Cumberland County’s police agencies to target underage drinking parties as school winds down and summer starts up.
The group provided each department with a blue satchel dubbed the “Party Patrol Kit.” Inside are various tools police can use to crack down on parties, with a goal of sanctioning the adults who make them possible.
“It’s not about getting the kids in trouble,” said Jo Morrissey, assistant project director for 21 Reasons. “It’s about making sure parents or adults in the community understand it’s illegal to supply alcohol to children or a place for children to consume alcohol.
“You want to supply them with alternative activities, parental monitoring, clear rules that are enforced with consequences,” she said.
Concern about parent discipline is more persuasive at keeping kids clear of alcohol than is fear of getting caught by police, she said.
The kits include portable breath test devices to confirm whether people have been drinking. They have a whiteboard that officers can use to write specifics about the incident and an individual, and a camera to capture that information and the youth’s photo for follow-up by juvenile authorities.
There are flashlights and binoculars, not high-tech items, but tools of the trade for officers tracking illegal get-togethers.
“It’s good to have that specialized equipment, but also it’s a good way to bring attention to the issue of party patrols and underage drinking,” Joyce said.
The spring historically has its share of parties. People like to enjoy the good weather and sometimes arrange to revel before everyone goes their separate ways for summer, Joyce said.
But Morrissey says underage drinking is a year-round problem. It does tend to get exacerbated when older siblings and friends come home from college, creating a new avenue for underage drinkers to get alcohol.
Joyce said 21 Reasons has brought police agencies together so they are taking a consistent approach to underage drinking.
“We’re working on a concerted effort to make the youth in Cumberland County safer,” he said. “I know they don’t believe it, but we are.”
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]