With graduation, prom season comes concerns about underage drinking
Belfast — With the arrival of spring comes the excitement of prom and graduations for many families of high school students in the community, and local law enforcement agencies want to make sure everyone celebrates these milestones in a safe way.
"With graduation season coming up, we definitely want to send out our yearly message," said Belfast Police Chief Mike McFadden. "We just want to let everyone know that underage drinking is still a problem, and we deal with it routinely."
McFadden said the department has zero tolerance for underage drinking and those who might help youths obtain alcohol.
"And the community has zero tolerance for this stuff," he said.
During a time of year when many families have much to celebrate, McFadden said police want to see everyone enjoy the season, but not at the expense of public safety, especially when it comes to the safety of local teens.
"We're very proactive in terms of rooting out underage drinking parties," he said.
Police also want to remind parents and guardians that they are on the hook legally if they allow the young people in their lives to celebrate the season with alcohol. According to the Maine Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, it is "a criminal offense for any person, adult or minor, to furnish liquor or imitation liquor to a minor, or allow a minor under that person's control, or in any place under that person's control, to possess or consume liquor or imitation liquor." This offense may result in fines from $500 to $2,000 and/or a jail sentence for up to 12 months. If an injury or death occurs, the person responsible for furnishing the alcohol may be charged with a felony and could be sued under the Maine Liquor Liability Act.
Some parents may feel it is safer for their kids to drink at home where they can supervise the activities, but McFadden said even with adults in the mix, there is too much risk involved for the youths consuming the alcohol, as well as the adults who choose to host these kinds of parties.
"It is an awesome responsibility for any parent to take on hosting an underage drinking party," said McFadden.
McFadden said while some parents do celebrate with the intention of a party being chem-free, they should still be on the lookout for guests who may show up with alcohol, or worse, arrive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
"There are an endless number of tragic outcomes for a situation like that," said McFadden.
Should intoxicated youths arrive at a party, McFadden advised the adults in charge of the gathering to call police immediately and report it rather than ask them to leave the property. That way, police can respond and make sure the youths in question get home safely and do not get behind the wheel again.
The state law is equally tough on minors who opt to get behind the wheel after they have been drinking. Maine law states that any driver under age 21 who operates or attempts to operate a motor vehicle with any alcohol in their blood shall have their license suspended by the secretary of state for one year. If they are carrying a passenger under age 21 at the time of the incident, an additional 180-day suspension will be imposed. In addition, the law dictates that the driver's refusal to be tested will result in suspension of their license for at least 18 months.
McFadden encouraged anyone who suspects an underage drinking party will occur in the near future or knows of such a gathering that is already in progress to report it to police. Concerned citizens may do so by calling police directly and reported the activity. The number for the Belfast Police Department is 338-2420, and to reach the Waldo County Sheriff's Office, dial 338-2040.
Another way of reporting underage drinking activities, McFadden said, is via anonymous text message — on a cell phone, the caller can text "wTip" to 274637. Alternatively, underage drinking party reports may also be submitted online at healthywaldocounty.org.
207-338-3333 ext. 109
Tanya has been a general news reporter in Waldo County since 1997.
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