Party patrols curb teen drinking
Cindy Villegas says she doesn’t drink, but she knows plenty of teens do.
“They want to grow up really fast, so that’s why I think they drink,” said Villegas, a Battle Mountain High School sophomore. “They want to be cool.”
But it’s been harder lately for high school students to get together and party, she said.
“They have more patrol now, but still students are always trying to find a different place or something to party,” she said.
It seems that teen drinking parties during graduation and prom times are becoming as common as the traditions they celebrate. Local police officers say they are trying to curb the practice by getting the word out about the consequences of underage alcohol and by pumping up patrols during prom and graduation weekends.
So far, their efforts have had positive results. Vail Police reported that no citations were handed out during Battle Mountain High School’s prom weekend, which was April 24.
“We’re absolutely ecstatic,” said Vail Police Commander Joe Russell.
A crackdown on teen drinking may have deterred some. But cops and counselors alike agree that getting parents involved in the effort to stop teen alcohol and drug use is key.
“Parents have an extreme amount of influence on children, even in their late teens,” said Holly Woods, a psychologist who helped coordinate a recent report on teen drug and alcohol use.
Using a grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation, law enforcement agencies across the county are banding together to stop underage drinking and driving.
Battle Mountain High School’s prom was a sharp contrast to the fall homecoming weekend in which police busted an after-dance party and cited 42 teens for underage drinking.
“We put the word out at homecoming that we would be out in force,” Russell said. “I don’t think the students or parents took that seriously.”
But the crackdown that weekend may have sent a message that resonated with teens and parents come prom time, he said.
“For prom, we put the word out again and we were told they didn’t want to have problems,” Russell said. “Nobody wanted to be cited. The parents took it very seriously. Some of the parents, I’m told, they talked to law enforcement to let them know they would have a party and would not be providing alcohol.”
In a survey of 66 Eagle County teens, half reported regularly drinking alcohol and 36 percent reported binge drinking – considered four or more drinks in a night. When asked if they ever thought about health or safety issues when deciding to use drugs or alcohol, 19 percent mentioned concern about drunken driving.
One of the recommendations included in that report was increased police presence around high school parties. During Battle Mountain’s High’s prom weekend, police patrolled near frequent teen hang-outs, showed up at the prom itself and went looking for parties at local hotels. They plan to use the tactics this weekend for Eagle Valley High School’s prom.
Russell credits the success with Battle Mountain’s prom to several factors: The use of Wood’s research and the cooperation between agencies, among other things. The involvement of parent is also important because there have been a few who have opted to host parties for teens, thinking it was a responsible way to allow their kids to drink, Russell said.
“It’s a very risk behavior and it’s against the law,” he said.
While Colorado law does allow a minor to consume alcohol under the close supervision of a parent, that supervision doesn’t transfer to another child, Russell said.
Still work to do
Another way officials hope to stop teen drug and alcohol use is by emphasizing the number of students who don’t engage in that kind of behavior, Woods said.
After all, the majority of teens don’t smoke or do drugs, and half don’t drink, she said.
“It’s positive peer pressure,” she said.
Police may not have caught anyone drinking or driving while drunk during Battle Mountain High’s prom, but Villegas said she still heard of parties that involved alcohol when she returned to school Monday.
Students will take advantage of times when their parents aren’t home, or they will lie to their parents about where they are going so they can drink, she said.
Better supervision at school and home could cut down on teen drinking, many agree. But mostly, Villegas thinks the best way to keep teens from using alcohol is by handing out severe punishments to those who are caught.
“That’s what my parents would do,” she said.
Local law enforcement having been working extra hours during big teen celebration weekends in an attempt o cut down on teen drinking and driving. These are the weekends police will be out in force:
Saturday – Eagle Valley High School prom
May 28-29 – Red Canyon, Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley high school commencement
Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 949-0555 ext. 607.