This weekend kicks off prom season, when many teenagers don their most elegant outfits for the culminating gala of the school year — and in some cases, risk their lives and those of their classmates.

Police throughout Cumberland County have assembled a task force of officers with experience in preventing and responding to underage drinking and will saturate areas where proms are being held, said Westbrook police Capt. Tom Roth, chairman of the Cumberland County group.

“We’ve found the last couple years (in Westbrook) kids have been behaving themselves because they know there’s increased scrutiny, but we want to be there in case an after-party comes up,” he said.

The efforts will kick off this weekend as Yarmouth, South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and Gorham hold proms, Roth said.

The new effort is funded by a $30,000 Justice Department grant disbursed by the Maine Office of Substance Abuse. Identical grants have been handed out in the state’s eight other prosecutorial districts.

Prom season is “a time of tragedy for too many young people and their families,” said South Portland Police Chief Edward Googins, whose agency is participating in the effort.

The money will pay for overtime so officers on the Cumberland County Underage Drinking Enforcement Task Force can work to curb underage drinking in addition to their regular assignments. That way, if a local department discovers a large party, the task force can provide manpower to help break it up, especially if the local department has to respond to other calls for service at the same time, Roth said.

Police believe the extra enforcement will deter drinking. A 2011 survey of Maine youths found that 85 percent said they did not drink when they thought they would be caught by police.

Both uniform and plainclothes officers will be assigned and task force members will target stores where adults may be persuaded to provide alcohol to minors.

The effort includes police from Falmouth, Freeport, South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough, Bridgton, Yarmouth, Windham and Westbrook, as well as the Maine State Police and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office. Many of the officers involved are school resource officers or those with previous underage drinking enforcement experience, Roth said.

The task force is similar to one used last year to deter impaired driving, Roth said. That effort was funded by the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety.

 

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@mainetoday.com