Oct 25, 2010 12:12 PM by Posted by Sharlee Barriere
LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) - Almost a year into an initiative to combat underage drinking and drunken driving in Calcasieu Parish, officials feel the mix of outreach and enforcement has made a big difference.
In law enforcement, "we hit them three ways," said Cmdr. James McGee with the Calcasieu Sheriff's Office.
Along with random and rotating DWI checkpoints, deputies have party patrol details where they investigate calls about underage drinking.
McGee said that over a nine-month period, deputies checked about 2,500 businesses that sell liquor to make sure they weren't selling to anyone under 21 years old.
"We have a 93 percent compliance from our businesses, so the problem now is older kids, siblings and relatives buying alcohol for teens," McGee said. "That's not a law enforcement issue; it's a community and family issue that has to be addressed."
Sgt. Jason Bergeron said officials each night investigate two or three calls placed to an anonymous hot line, along with information from school deputies.
"And we've drove up on quite a few parties, too," Bergeron said. He said one of the biggest parties was broken up when a deputy saw about 30 cars parked along a street.
"He drove by and there were three teenagers, standing in the front yard, drinking beer," Bergeron said.
McGee said school deputies are important to have on each detail because they interact with teenagers every day. The patrols are usually scheduled around teenage activities.
"We know when they're out of school, when homecoming is at which schools, and deputies can sometimes be out every weekend," McGee said.
Lt. Nick Fontenot said he's gotten mostly positive feedback from parents, who are usually concerned about where the teens are getting the alcohol.
McGee and Fontenot, both parents of teenagers, said they were aware of the prevalence of underage drinking in Louisiana and were always concerned.
A 2008 survey in Calcasieu Parish found that when students were asked if they had drunk an alcoholic beverage in the past 30 days, 9.3 percent of sixth-graders said yes, and the numbers steadily increased with age.
For eighth-graders, it was 26.1 percent; for 10th-graders, 41.4 percent; and for 12thgraders, 50.7 percent.
"We were concerned and were glad to see other parents were concerned, too, because all we can do is cite these teenagers. It's up to the parents to curb the problem," McGee said.
Fontenot said some parents didn't think it was illegal to supply their children with alcohol in their own homes. A parish ordinance makes it illegal to dispense alcohol to all minors.
McGee said they have also attributed a drop in overall vehicle burglaries and property crimes 14 percent and 17 percent, compared with 2009 to checkpoints and party patrols.
"You have kids at parties who are drinking, and they go out, they break into cars, run over mailboxes. That has been a big deal in rural areas for years, and we're seeing those numbers go down," McGee said.
All of the deputies said that while their part is important, education continues to make the biggest difference.
McGee said more parents are aware of research that shows drinking at an early age inhibits teens' brain development and may cause problems later in life.
"We used to hear, 'Well, we did it when we were younger,' but now they know the effects and we didn't know any of this before," McGee said.