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January 20, 2010 > Addressing teenage drinking

Addressing teenage drinking

By Dustin Findley

Milpitas Police Chief Dennis Graham described to Council what the City does and what it could do to address teenage binge drinking and alcohol abuse in response to Mayor Bob Livengood's request to develop an outreach program.

Current programs include Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), part of the curriculum for all fifth graders in Milpitas. DARE has a section on the dangers of alcohol abuse.

The City also has a sober graduation presentation at Milpitas High School every year. This can range from a student assembly at which an officer speaks about alcohol and drunk driving. In some years, it may include mock car stops, field sobriety tests, mock arrests or even a mock trial.

There is also a generalized driving under the influence (DUI) enforcement program to which an officer is assigned throughout the year to enforce drunk-driving laws.

Police also have checkpoints and extra patrols during the holiday season and at other popular times when people are likely to celebrate with alcohol.

All of these programs address alcohol abuse and, to some extent, binge drinking.

There are also programs offered, not as preventative programs, at school to students who have violated school policy or the law regarding alcohol. These include Department of Alcohol and Drug Services (DADS), a county program that serves about 50 youths annually, and Asian American Recovery Services who provide similar services to about 30 youths a year.

Potential programs to address alcohol abuse include expanding current efforts and new programs.

Each year, School Resource Officers (SRO), sworn police officers assigned to schools, give an orientation to freshmen all the way up to seniors. According to Graham, this would be a great opportunity to discuss binge drinking at no additional cost.

Another channel is to present to parents, who play an important role in monitoring teenage behavior, especially at night, at Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meetings and community groups. There would be some costs depending on the number of presentations, possibly up to $1,000 for an officer's overtime.

A favorite program that addresses alcohol abuse and driving is the Every 15 Minutes Program. It is endorsed by Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). The two-day program involves activities that raise teenagers' awareness of the consequences of alcohol consumption. A student is removed from class by the "Grim Reaper" at 15-minute intervals and returns as the "living dead," forbidden to speak with their classmates for the remainder of the day. In the US, someone dies every 15 minutes from an alcohol-related motoring accident.

The program also simulates an accident scene with rescue workers treating participants so they gain a sense of being involved in a traffic collision associated with alcohol. Participants spend the night in a hotel. The retreat simulates separation from friends and family. They later relate their experiences to fellow students at an assembly.

This program could cost up to $4,000. At least two officers would need training and be paid overtime.

Graham suggested and supports a "social host" ordinance that would essentially hold adults accountable if they host a party at which guests younger than 21 years drink. Only 29 cities in California have social host ordinances and most are in Santa Clara County. The Chief believes the other cities wait for a tragedy to happen before they introduce a social host ordinance.

City Manager Tom Williams believes there are enough grants to maximize cost recovery on the programs.

Council directed staff to draft a social host ordinance and Chief Graham to work with staff and the Youth Advisory Commission to move forward on programs like Every 15 Minutes.

"It must be made clear it [teenage binge drinking] is not some rite of passage. It's a dangerous activity," concluded the Mayor.

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