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Underage Drinking - A New Priority for Law Enforcement

By Travis Bruyer

“Unit 39, respond to the vicinity of 1st Avenue and 5th Street for the report of a possible underage drinking party..Several young people appearing intoxicated, some challenging to fight others”..

Let’s face the facts; these calls are about as unpleasant as domestics. In fact, I’d rather deal with a domestic then a house full of out of control, intoxicated youth. That is until about four years ago when I was offered the position of the county alcohol task force in the town I grew up in. That town is Kalispell, Montana The consumption of alcohol by our youth had reached a critical mass level. Nearly 77% of our 12th graders used alcohol regularly. When two 11-year-olds died after consuming a half gallon of vodka, we realized it was time to take harsh measures to deter use. Our county actually had one of the highest reported rates of underage drinking incidents in the country and a crisis that needed to be dealt with.

In 2006 the Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking (STOP) Act was passed by a unanimous vote in the Senate and House. This was one of many indications that underage drinking is a priority at national, state, and community levels. Even the Surgeon General stated in his “Call to Action” that our children are our priority and that underage drinking is the greatest threat to our youth. Plainly put, we needed to start doing things in the best interest of children. We established one of the first alcohol enforcement teams in the nation.

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What is an A.E.T.? It is one of the most successful tools rural communities can use to address the underage drinking pandemic. By combining the enforcement power of all law enforcement agencies in a jurisdiction you can maximize your effectiveness and launch an “all-out-assault” on every facet of this issue, not to mention strengthen those agencies involved professional relationship. Simply put, this is a collaborative agreement from department heads to collectively work together. By combining agencies you can select from a much broader pool of Officers to cover shifts as much of the complaint is “we don’t have enough officers to do that”.

Officers from around the county “partner up” on shifts actively searching for underage drinking (Party Patrol), conducting alcohol compliance checks, and other Environmental Strategies to reduce the availability of alcohol to youth and enforce underage drinking laws. Officers work in unmarked vehicles patrolling problem areas or attending community events known to attract youth and risky behavior.

What we should consider most as Law Enforcement with regard to underage drinking, is “What has changed?” This is not the same generation as ours. Sure we might have drank when we were young, but most of us weren’t drinking at age 12 and on past age 21. Most over 30 somethings started when they were 15 or16. Today’s youth are more advanced than we ever were and in many ways. Onset of alcohol use, illicit drug use, and sexual activity comes very early in the lives of today’s youth. More importantly they are subversive.

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